It’s Christmas come early!
Online motorcycle toy store “LeatherUp.com” wants to let the world know about its house-brand line of helmets called “Xelement”, and has been kind enough to send us one of their ”2-IN-1″ Evolution models for evaluation.
And while it’s a bit cold here in Boston for an on-road test, it will be my pleasure to walk you through my initial impressions of the product as I open the box.
See below for the traditional box-opening video, where I record the revealing of the item fresh out of the shipping container so as to capture the most genuine first impression possible. If you’re in the market for a new road-riding dome piece, read on for a more complete review of the helmet.
The shape of the helmet is decidedly angular. The subtle peak at the top actually reminds me of the hood on my Acura, and the cascading ridges on the back of the helmet give some depth making it a bit more visually engaging than a standard “bowling ball” helmet.
But it doesn’t look (or feel) like it was designed in Minecraft. On the contrary the angles are rounded off, giving the design an “aggressive-but-subdued” kind of vibe. I find these smooth edges match the rubberized matte black spray-job nicely, though that may be my color bias coming out.
Fit & Finish
The rubberization you get with a matte finish really helps make any helmet feel solid, and that’s the case here too. The body itself feels well-reenforced and is plenty thick. The face shield is robust and its up/down operation feels great… once you figure out the locking mechanism.
The plastic toggle switches on the vents and retractable sun visor aren’t the sturdiest I’ve seen, but they’re perfectly acceptable. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised with the overall build quality at this price point.
The helmet is well-sized; I demo’ed a Medium and it was consistent with my other Mediums from other brands. The head-entry hole at the bottom is a bit on the snug side, making it easier to don the thing with the visor up, but once it’s fitted this gives you a nice feeling of snug security.
The chin strap is a different design than I’ve seen in this application. Like a modern ski boot it’s a plastic locking-clip rather than a D-Ring, which I typically see on motorsport helmets.
The plastic here feels solid but I’ll be closely monitoring how well this mechanism survives in long-term testing. The design takes plenty of punishment in the ski boot application so I’m confident it should hold up just fine in the wind. In a crash, well, let’s hope I don’t have to report back on that one. As an added bonus it’s quite a bit easier to put on while wearing gloves. A huge plus if you like to ride in cooler temperatures!
The first thing you notice about this helmet is the giant visor. Fortunately, it doesn’t look goofy in real life like you might imagine but it will get noticed by other riders when the lower face-shield is in position. Of course, the benefits of a large visor are obvious- visibility through this thing is excellent! In fact, the best I’ve experienced on any full-faced helmet. And as I mentioned earlier the construction is solid. With the locking feature of the slide, you won’t have to worry about it flying up or down with the will of the wind.
That brings me to the second-most noteworthy feature- the removable face shield. This aspect is in fact what renders the helmet a “2-IN-1″… with it in place, you get the style of a full-face. Without it, the wind is yours for the swallowing.
It’s easy to connect-and-disconnect, which is great for accessibility. But as a result, I’m sure it won’t give quite the same level of chin and lower-face protection as a solid one-piece helmet. That said, it does feel strong enough to withstand a direct blow… I just don’t think the locking tabs are up to the task of keeping this little shield in place during a lateral impact.
The third and my favorite feature I want to share is the retractable sun visor. Tucked within the forehead area is a small dark-tinted shield that snaps down with the push of the top-mounted toggle switch.
The feature isn’t unique to this helmet or brand, but I love it nonetheless.
For some reason I can’t help but associate it with Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing helmet visor. Which of course, makes it super cool.
And it actually is rather useful. For all those times you forget/lose/break your sunglasses, the retractable shield will be there to keep me from getting blinded by the sun and the police strobes I invariably encounter when I ride. The only downside here is that it does’t cover your entire field of vision, so your eyes may have trouble keeping up if you look at your gauges a lot.
The Xelement Evolution 2-IN-1 is a stylish, versatile helmet with plenty of features and more than reasonable construction quality. A much better package than you’d expect for the price- you can’t go wrong with that!”
• On sale now for $89.95
• Sprayed in Flat Black, Gloss Black, White, Yellow, or Gun Metal
• Fitted at S through 2XL
• Available today at LeatherUp.com
Stay tuned for on-road testing in the spring!
It’s always an emotional day.
The leaves have fallen, average temperature has dropped to “f’ing cold”, and it officially becomes time to hibernate the summer toys.
Three out of the seven vehicles that make berth at my parent’s house are carbureted, rear-wheel-drive, and old; very much unfit for the harsh salts that swathe the roads of Massachusetts come winter.
On top of that, they’re bloody miserable to use below freezing.
Up until this year, the Collins winterization ritual included parking the machines in a line, throwing a few ounces of Sta-Bil in the fuel tanks and cracking a beer.
This still seems to work fine for dad’s vehicles, which inexplicably start immediately after months of neglect, but the prissy engine in my air-cooled GSXR gave me such grief getting started this summer that I’ve been inclined to abide the process illustrated in the Haynes manual this year.
Battery removed, fuel stabilized, carburetors drained, bike lifted onto storage stand. I’m even adding Captain Jeff Hattabaugh’s technique of flooding the crankcase with oil, in an effort to prevent corrosion to the engine’s internal components.
Step one; drop some stabilizer in the gas, top off tank, and run for a bit. Easy.
Step two; remove battery and install in trickle-charger. Done.
Step three; drain carbs…
In theory, this is this simplest task of all. Turn the little screw at the bottom of each carburetor lefty-loosey, watch gas trickle out.
However, there is the practical complication of ‘where the gas will go’ once it’s escaped the confines of the combustion cycle.
Each carburetor holds about two ounces of fuel, all up that’s more than half a beer’s worth of liquid. Dad didn’t want it on the floor of his driveway, and I didn’t want it dripping into my stator.
Thus began the engineering process.
Idea one began as logically as any; with a Dixie cup and a turkey baster.
We cut the squeezy end of the baster so that it could envelop the drain plug of a carb while I opened it with a screwdriver. Gravity would send the fuel down the baster and into the cup.
It worked perfectly, right up to the point at which it didn’t. Though the baster seemed to be firmly in place, I observed gas flowing through it and onto the lower components of the engine.
The turkey baster, which was meant for basting turkeys and not holding gasoline, had been structurally compromised by the fuel- which had quite literally burned through it.
“Who knew petrol was so abrasive,” I said sarcastically… thinking back to previous experiments I had conducted with similar results.
So, one carb drained- about 50% on the ground. With three carbs to go and the baster now completely melted, further innovation was required.
We returned to the garage; a proverbial “cave of wonders” for those who reckon an eclectic pile of refuse could be classified as “wonders”.
Dad emerged with a pair of massive Bosch windshield wipers… used, but occupying the box of a new set. No doubt having been discarded from a vehicle years ago and returned to the box from which the replacement set came. You know, just in case.
He dumped the old wiper blades onto the ground and held forth the boxes.
“Dude. Gas luge.”
I put together his intention immediately; cut the wiper-box to the shape of a long tray, then slope the tray and direct the liquid into another container a la vodka luge.
“Let’s do it.”
He sprinted to the house to steal mom’s scissors from the cabinet and I readied the next carb for draining.
We set up the luge and I opened the plug. Much to our satisfaction, the thick plastic of the wiper box survived the river of gas running down it for all three remaining carburetors.
We drained the cup into a jerry can in the corner of the garage with a big “X” on it… an ever-heavier “discard can” full of used automotive liquids unfit for disposal in the sink.
As I dumped the spent fuel in I thought aloud; “So what happens when this ‘bad gas’ can gets full?”
“Shoot it with a flaming arrow, obviously.”
Thus begins the countdown until Moto Season 2013; T minus fourish months. Time to break out those skis…
Having spent the whole summer convincing my father that our vintage Suzukis were capable of completing a 50+ mile trip, I was stoked when he finally agreed to ride up the coast with me from his house in the Boston burbs to Portsmouth, NH.
At less than 40 miles the long way, I covered more distance than this ride before tea time back in Oz. With awesome weather and nothing but paved roads to our destination, it should have been easy money.
And it was, until I got distracted by the only thing that would force me to pull over and shut down my bike- a shitty old Land Rover with a “for sale” sign on it.
I mean, wow- rollover damage, more surface rust than paint, and tires that looked like dehydrated licorice… this thing was as Instagram worthy as they come. And yes, that TR-6 you can see in the background hints at exactly what I was hoping; the guy’s whole lot was littered with British lovelies including a GT6 and an E-Type he was hocking for twelve grand.
Having pranced around this junkyard to my heart’s content, dad and I saddled up to make the final mile into Portsmouth and wedge our rice rockets between the Harleys and BMWs that generally populate the town’s streets. Even decided to try going helmetless (legal in New Hampshire) for the final stretch.
That was of course back when my bike would start.
Sure as it was running like a champ all the way up from Hamilton, my old Gixxer cranked and cranked with what seemed like no intention at all of powering up.
Could it have been the close proximity to all these English electrical gremlins that infected the fragile brain of my bike?
Dad took a photo for later analysis… I force a smile as he taunts me for having the less reliable machine of our pair. Jerk.
But my humiliation was not to cease there.
“How about we ride in to town, grab a coffee, and see if it starts when we come back,” dad suggested.
I looked at the pillion seat on his tiny 450 with great anxiety. Ride in? To where all the Harley guys hang out? Oi.
But the plan was otherwise sound, I really wanted coffee and hoped against logic that my bike would kick over after a rest, and so into the city we rode doubled-up like a couple slumdog suburbanites fresh out of Mumbai.
We got back to the GSXR ninety minutes later and the story hadn’t changed, so I made the call to abandon it and have it picked up by a truck ASAP the next day.
Of course, that call also meant I’d be getting home the hard way.
So there I was; full Demon armor, leather, Alpinestars riding shoes, mirror-visor helmet… on the back of my dad’s diminutive 450cc commuter bike. All the way down Route 1. Looking like a boss.
Nothing puts a hole in the old ego like spending an hour plus on a vibrating seat with another grown man. The bike wasn’t happy about it either- rear suspension maxed, engine near half efficiency… but somehow it mustered the balls to pull twice its usual payload and for that we were grateful. I guess I should be thankful for a free ride included in my week’s humility lesson anyway.
Now my repair… I hope that’s free too.
After a few months of begging industry-champion motorsport outfitter Alpinestars for some gear to test, they finally obliged us with a sweet pair of kicks from their street motorcycle apparel lineup.
It couldn’t have come at a better time, because the Pumas I had bought off the clearance rack at Marshall’s were looking even shabbier than my twenty-year-old sportbike.
I busted open the box and shot my usual impression video, including a road test review.
In collaboration with Bootleg Media Group we were able to up the production value from my usual one-camera operation, and I finally found an excuse to strap a GoPro to my Gixxer.
I yapped about the build quality, style and versatility of the FastLane shoes on camera, but in case you don’t want to take my word for it, examine the close-ups for yourself.
A high-powered sportbike, even a geriatric one like mine, requires a little commitment on behalf of the rider in order to extract the machine’s full performance potential.
You wouldn’t take out a Ferrari with bald tires and no seat belt, right?
Put your hand down, Mr. Hattabaugh.
These shoes give you the a little racing boot rigidity without… well… being racing boots. The high-top style is less aggressive in appearance when worn with jeans (or any long pants), and the only thing hinting at the motorsport-orientation of your footwear will be the big A* emblazoned on the sides.
The black-on-white with red trim really is a classic race look, but the shoes can be had in black/yellow or black/white as well.
Here are the specs, straight from the horse’s mouth (what?):
- Sleek profile upper is constructed from lightweight, durable and abrasion resistant microfiber.
- Breathable mesh liner aids airflow within the shoe.
- External TPR protectors around the ankle and toe.
- Foam backed, double density ankle cups provide impact protection to both sides of the ankle.
- Internal toe and heel counter are layered under the microfiber for additional impact and crush protection.
- Reflective stripes on heel for improved visibility in dark conditions.
- Integrated metal shank in the sole helps reduce excessive foot deformation during impacts.
Comfort and convenience
- Plush 3D Mesh on the collar and tongue.
- Shift area with debossed texture detail.
- Extremely lightweight rubber sole features laser-ablated textured grip for sure footing on all surfaces.
- PU midsole on the heel for added walking comfort.
- Anatomically profiled EVA foam footbed grants the foot a more natural posture both on and off the bike.
- Lace closure system with adjustable Velcro strap affords quick and easy fastening.
Head over to Alpinestars’ dedicated page for the shoes here to see them up close and get a pair of your own.
The seemingly endless saga of restoring my old GSXR brought my father and I to Drum Hill Cycles in Nashua, New Hampshire- a massive warehouse full old motorcycle parts, basically a Cave of Wonders to a couple retro-moto enthusiasts.
Aside from a small banner on the road-facing wall, there’s not much to tip you off about this treasure-trove unless you already know the address. But if you’re in the neighborhood, the railroad crossing right next to it is a good landmark to defer to.
Say what you will about ours being a “disposable” culture, but from what we saw Drum Hill had plenty of business keeping old bikes alive.
In the thirty or so minutes we were there, at least five other people showed up looking for various miscellanea for their motorcycle projects. It was encouraging to see that the restoration business is still running, and that I’m not the only one with a soft spot for “modern classics.”
Bikes and cars from the 80′s and 90′s used to get written-off by the collector and restoration community for being “too modern” or “bland”. But now that people like myself, who grew up dreaming about the vehicles from that era, are starting their own projects we’re seeing a renaissance of these machines we now call- modern classics.
The nostalgia of riding something I fantasized about while I was supposed to be learning my times-tables is without a doubt part of the appeal of the 80′s/90′s iron, but I also love the blend of modern-ish design with the primitive brutality and rudimentary interface of say, my ’91 GSXR.
While we didn’t end up buying anything this trip, it was a lot of fun to walk through the canyons of fairings, fuel tanks and every other motorcycle accessory you can imagine for bikes from bygone decades.
The proprietor was most agreeable, talking over the issues my bike was having with me and dumping out a few boxes of parts to sift through pounds of plastic to try and find what I was looking for. Unfortunate it appeared that the ignition control box I was seeking had been “sold yesterday”, and so continued my less-than-ideal luck with my project.
Drum Hill isn’t a completely unreasonable drive from Boston, but if you don’t feel like picking parts yourself they’re website has just about everything they stock in their expansive collection.
Be sure to check them out if you’re spinning spanners on a bike from the forgotten era of modern classics, and help them keep the old school spirit alive.
Finally got the left shoulder I dislocated on a kangaroo’s ass last June reassessed at an American hospital.
I lucked out and got x-rayed by a cute radiologist with a Boston accent.
“Hold your breath when I click this button”
No problem, I was already asphyxiating myself in an effort to flex my four-pack. I was tempted to ask her out to P.F. Chang’s (next door) but couldn’t make the dots connect. Meeting chicks in a shirtless environment puts scrawny dudes like myself at a disadvantage… that, plus the fact that my mum insisted on accompanying me to the hospital pretty well sank my ship before I could get the sails unfurled and needless to say, I left Lahey Radiology sans digits.
Unfortunately, the subsequent consultation with the orthopedic surgeon wasn’t much more encouraging.
He looked at the x-rays professionally and turned to me, describing the damage as “quite bad” with an authoritative nod and well-practiced expression of concern.
I made an appointment for an MRI and the surgical options were laid out for me.
Apparently the procedure would involve slicing open my shoulder, wedging some tissue from a dead guy in there, then boring out my collarbone so that some medical grade Zip-Ties could be run through and cinched up locking my arm in its proper place. As an afterthought, he mentioned that I could expect to be mono-armed for no less than six months afterwards.
Not exactly the carbon-fiber cybernetic robot arm I had been hoping for… I’ve got to stop playing Deus Ex.
Maybe I’ll give that physical therapy thing a try after all.
Or start riding slower.
Since I didn’t follow his jump to country music (yep) I had completely forgotten he existed, until I found this dredging YouTube with my usual “Ducati + music video” search.
…Ok, fine, it was “babes + motorcycle”…
Regardless, I think it’s high time Sisqó had a comeback.
What’s that? You disagree?
Well you certainly won’t disagree that Sisqó and his passenger are dangerously under-dressed for road riding and this clip is five minutes of YouTube gold. Possibly the weakest lineup of vehicles ever toted by a rapper (is that a maroon Ninja?) but I’m sure you’ll find it entertaining nonetheless.
There’s even a Land Rover Discovery II at 1:10. Far and away the least gangsta SUV ever to get valeted at a Spearmint Rhino… but as I’m sure you know, one of my favorites.
Either Sisqó’s manager stuffed up on budgeting for car rentals, or his taste is just as bad as mine. In any case, I certainly never had that many scantily senoritas on my Disco…
They probably wouldn’t have been welcome tailgating polo games anyway.
Cape York Solo: Part V of VwCaptain Billy’s Landing is a well-known camp spot on the eastern side of Cape York. Many bypass it because it requires a sixty-kilometer detour (thirty in, thirty out) but like much of Far North Queensland it’s something spectacular to behold.
A seemingly infinite beach with soft surf, heaps of tidal caves, and exotic marine life running all over the place. Just don’t stay on the beach too long or you’ll get skin cancer. And don’t go in the caves either, because the fumes emitted by the fungus in there are extremely toxic. And for the love of god don’t go in the water- a crocodile will eat you for sure. Other than that it’s a brilliant spot. Did I mention I’m pretty sure it’s haunted?
So I was holding the place down by myself… not that big of a surprise, since the high season is pretty well over. I turn on my phone to check the time and it rings straight away. Now I know there’s no cell service up there, so I get a bit weirded out. Naturally the Caller ID isn’t helpful, reporting just “Unknown Caller.” I pick up and nobody’s on the line.
A’ight, kinda freaky but at least I know what time it is.
I pick a spot to camp facing the ocean (but not too close) so I’ll wake up to sunrise over the waves. Which was a great plan… until I woke up around midnight to strobe lights blinking every minute or so. Emerging from the tent I solved this mystery pretty quick- the clouds had formed up and were mounting a fierce lighting strike on my location.
The thunder hit hard. I don’t know if Captain Billy was a pirate or just the leader of a baseball team, but it sure did sound like eighteenth-century nautical warfare was taking place on top of my tent.
I scrambled my gear into the shelter of the welcome kiosk, which had just enough roof to cover myself and an informative poster on the area’s birds.
I thought about the road I had taken in here. It was twisty and chock full of loose dirt… dirt that would turn into mud. Mud, which would be impassible. Worse than that I was still north of the mighty Wenlock River- the “Point of No Return” when the wet season beings.
I started to panic a little (just a little) and seriously considered packing up and sprinting south. Was this just a passing storm, or the beginning of the imposing wet season? And if the latter, could I make it south of the Wenlock before it rose too far over the road?
I decided to wait it out. Trying to ride in this dump in the middle of the night would be suicide. Plus, packing up is a real pain in the ass.
So I hunkered down under the tiny roof and finally feel asleep. When I woke up about six hours later, I crept out of my tent into the halcyon slice of paradise I had known before the sun went down complete with gentle breeze, dry ground and not a cloud in the sky. It was as if I had dreamed the evening’s calamity. Hell, I’d been living off beef jerky and instant coffee for the last week… maybe I did.
In any case I was happy to have my fears of becoming stranded allayed, and even happier to crack into a fresh mango for breakfast on the beach.
The fruits were growing in excess at the Archer River fuel depot where I had camped a couple nights prior, and the cute Scottish chick working the till there had been kind enough to pick a few for me. Way better than the pot of plain rice I would have eaten otherwise.
After breakfast I was staring into the sea pondering space and time when I gathered more evidence for the haunting of Captain Billy’s Landing.
Out of the blue and clear as day, I heard the sound of a boatswain’s whistle cut through the wind.
You know, one of those two-tone pipes they blew on old ships to get the attention of the crew?
Yes I’m sure it wasn’t the wind.
It was definitely the ghost of Captain Billy calling his crew of the damned to rise out of Davy Jones’ locker and download a copy of my Jimmy Buffet playlist… or whatever it is tropical ghosts might do.
In any case I wasn’t trying to stick around and find out so I loaded up the bike and burned rubber back to the development road. Southbound on the last couple days of a big solo ride at this point and eager for some greasy urban food… let’s motor!
Cape York Solo: Part IV of V
The Old Telegraph Line (OTL) is the best-known and arguably most exciting run on Cape York. Stretching about a hundred and thirty kilometers from Bramwell Junction to the Jardine River, it’s a rough-and-tumble ride full of unbelievable drops, tight fastblast sections, and enough water crossings to bog an MRAP.
The truly hardcore attempt it in April or May… at the tail-end of the wet season, when most crossings would sink a Land Cruiser to the windscreen and motorcycles have to be carried half the way.
To those who have done this; respect.
Timing was such that my crack at the OTL was in mid-November, at the tail-end of the dry season when the mud is all but gone and many of the river crossings don’t even get the front brake wet.
I’ll be the first to admit that, yes, this is when it’s easiest.
But it’s still a proper challenge and good fun.
I pulled up to the southern start point of Bramwell Junction late at night, having been distracted by the cutie pumping petrol at Archer River all day.
Next day my tent was set up pretty well next to the fuel bowser and I was ready for action at the first crack of sunlight. No coffee needed, I was amped with anticipation for the track to come.
Tank full of petrol and a gut full of mango I powered up and hit it hard. I came to the first obstacle, Palm Creek, in short order. A near-vertical drop followed by a similarly steep exit, I rode around in circles for a few minutes looking for a bypass… surely this wasn’t the way.
And yet, it was. Less than three kilometers into the ride would be the first of many points I would consider turning around.
With a downshift and a shrug I crept into the creek, then powered on hard for a noisy exit.
Ah, that wasn’t so bad.
After Palm Creek I ran through a fastblast that snaked into a few sandy corners. With my loadout more stable than ever thanks to a new cargo setup, I could step out the back wheel like a champ and not loose my sleeping bag. Bloody brilliant.
Next obstacle was Delhunty River, about six meters wide but hardly ten centimeters deep. Before crossing I caught sight of a few Land Cruisers camped up on the south side, so I strode over to have a chat.
I was bloody glad I did, because after a few minutes of talking they insisted on sharing their breakfast- cooked eggs, bacon, potatoes and coffee.
This was going to be a good day.
The track continues somewhat similarly to Frenchman’s… varied terrain, a few fastblasts, the only difference is river crossings. There are a lot of them.
I tried to get out and take video of each, but after dropping my camera on rocks for the fifth time I started thinking the risk outweighed the reward.
I did film two of the more famous crossings, Gunshot Creek:
And a bit further down the track, Cockatoo Creek:
The difference in these obstacles between May and November is absolutely unbelievable. Here I was walking through Cockatoo Creek without getting my shins wet, when six months ago we were belt-deep in fast flowing water at the same exact crossing.
I was told that crocodile metabolism increases in the summer heat, making them hungriest at this time of year. Being too lazy to look it up, I had to defer to my instincts on whether or not I was being marked for a meal. Fortunately/unfortunately I don’t have any drama to report on this; spent a total of almost three months on Cape York now and I still haven’t seen a bloody croc’. Apparently this is a good thing… but as far as I’m concerned I’ve still got a box to tick.
Anyway, after Cockatoo there’s a brief transport section of Development Road you’ve got to take to get to the next intersection of the OTL. Take the right toward Elliot Falls (which is a great place to camp) and then keep left when you get to the camping area.
This is where the track gets seriously hairy.
Deep, deep sand and craggy water crossings wrought with holes, rocks, sand pits and all kinds of nonsense to get hung up on.
I walked every crossing to suss out the danger factor, and as a result was soaked to the bone for the majority of the day. A minor inconvenience, but largely alleviated by the fact that it was around forty degrees Celsius pretty much the whole time I was north of Archer River.
When I was nearly at the end I ran into a couple dudes on DR-Z’s who were southbound. They warned of an exceptionally deep and complicated crossing a few kilometers north, and apprised me of a “bailout track” just before it. Advice that would soon become invaluable.
At first I dismissed the idea of a bypass, and charged ahead toward the Jardine River and northern end of the OTL as planned. The very next crossing was insane; steep, windy and very sandy descent into a deep and extremely boggy creek. I crept down and examined the water hole. The water was right around the front fender’s level… just about as deep as you can go in a DR-Z with anything resembling safety.
With the bike shut down and my gear left on the north side of the water, I made ready to push my rig through the water rather than ride it. This would be safer in terms of keeping water out of the engine (a de-activated engine doesn’t suck anything in) but a lot harder in terms of relying on my physical strength for propulsion.
I got as much of a “running” start as I could wrangle and shoved the bike into the creek. The bottom was like quicksand, forcing me to pull up on the handlebars as I pushed forward.
But with a hearty grunt a desperate push I got the machine through the water and safely on the north side- which was mercifully rock hard.
From this point every meter of the track was extremely difficult. All the obstacles I had been dealing with the whole way up, plus massive ruts that directed my front tire at their will.
Finally I reached the massive crossing my southbound buddies had been on about… and it was nothing short of epic.
Crystal clear water striking a ten meter fissure in the sandy-soft trail that was so deep even the biggest croc-o-dillions could raise a family in there. Gentle wind gave the palm trees a soft but steady bob like they were listening to Why Am I A Rastaman. Water burbled over a few big rocks and the sound reminded me of a faucet in the bathroom of a really nice restaurant. Which made me wish, just for a second, that I was at a really nice restaurant. The rice and water I had been living off the last ten days was making mealtimes… not exactly something I looked forward to.
But I snapped back into adventure mode quickly. There would be plenty of time for fine dining when I got to Los Angeles, this scene was too perfect not to enjoy.
Well, it would have been perfect, if it wasn’t making my route impassible.
I walked in and around it for half an hour trying to see a way through. It was unbelievably deep everywhere, but unlike the last crossing the bottom was just too soft to push through. In an attempt to overcome this, I started laying a path with huge rocks. But as soon as I dropped them in the water, they sunk so deep into the sand that I couldn’t remember where I had dropped ‘em.
If the bottom wouldn’t hold a five pound rock, what would happen to my two hundred pound motorcycle?
With no other option making itself apparent, I had no choice but to turn around and use the exit track the other guys had ridden in on. So I retraced my last couple K’s, including the deep crossing I had negotiated earlier, found the fork in the track and headed for the Development Road. Once there I cut south with most of the OTL completed successfully. Not a perfect run, but one hell of a good time. Anyway… I’ve got to have a reason to come back, don’t I?
Cape York Solo: Part III of V
Not to be confused with the French Line of the Simpson Desert (those frogs must have been all over this island) Frenchman’s Track runs through the Mangkuma Land Trust, from just north of Archer River Roadhouse to just south of Bramwell Junction.
It’s an awesome run; easy to access from the development road, long enough to engage you for a whole day and short enough to do with a small fuel tank.
But the real pig’s ear of this track is the variability of the terrain. Over just about 120 kilometers you get deep water, deep sand, fast-blast sections, crazy steep climbs and loose rocks. No combing your mustache on this one; surrender attention and you’ll be in the trees in short order.
I made a map but since my handwriting’s atrocious and cartography skills even worse, I figured you’d be better off with a not-to-scale “textual interpretation.” These are my notes of terrain as I found it, so if you’re giving Frenchman’s a crack you can use this as a guide for what to expect.
FRENCHMAN'S TRACK, CAPE YORK
Northern Intersection: S/P "BATAVIA DOWNS"
Easy, Fast Track
Pascoe River/Very Deep*
I Southern Intersection: S/P "QUARANTINE"
*I should articulate just what I mean by “Very Deep” in reference to the Pascoe River. When I did this run, it was the very end of the dry season… when every river in Cape York is at its lowest. Even the mighty Wenlock is but a trickle you could cross in a PowerWheels car.
The Pascoe, however, rescinds its fury for no man. With a fearsomely steep approach and departure angle, a surface littered with massive rocks, and fast-flowing water up to my waistline, I can’t recommend attempting this crossing solo.
I approached from the south. Feathering the brakes in first gear, I crept down the slippery track to the rivers edge. My execution was masterful, right up to the point when I locked up the rear wheel, stalled and landed smack-down in a pile of mud and kangaroo shit.
No worries, because I could already tell I was going to get wet walking this river.
After picking the bike up I ditched my gear and strode into the water. By the time I had slipped and fallen in twice I had no choice but to admit- there was no F’ing way I was going to make it through this. So I sat on a big rock and dried off, which took about five seconds in the blistering FNQ sun.
Looking up at the steep drop-in I had barely made it down to get here I could tell the coming-about process would be almost as hard as continuing north. But with a little Austin Powers/100-point-turn and a whole lot of throttle I was on track long enough to loose traction at the steepest point, spin out, and come off with the bike pointed sideways.
I decided to head back to Archer River- where I had fueled up at the beginning of the day. There I was able to stock up on mangoes and more fully appreciate the hospitality of the backpackers working there. By the next day I was northbound again and tearing up the dirt with a re-activated vigor.
I cut to the Old Telegraph Line (OTL) after Archer, but I did end up completing the rest of Frenchman’s Track a few days later on my southbound trip. And I’m glad I did, because the section north of the Pascoe is not to be missed. I’ve never seen greater variability on a track in my life. The challenge is significant to keep a six-foot smile on your face, but you’re never more than a hundred kilometers from a cattle station and you don’t have to panic every time you slosh your fuel tank.
Even managed to get some video of the Portland Roads region… some high-drama as the bush burns…
…and my pathetic attempt at climbing out of the Pascoe River bed on my DR-Z for your entertainment.
Cape York Solo: Part II of V
The Starcke Track is one of the least-known routes on Cape York, and easily one of the hardest. OAT only takes groups this way when everyone on tour is an expert rider and we’re ahead of schedule.
With over three-hundred kilometers between fuel stops, endless ruts and bulldust that will toss you into the ground like a lineman it’s hard bloody work.
Naturally I had to give it a go, so I left early in the morning from Isabella Falls with a full fuel tank plus a ten-liter jerrycan I had hanging off my rear fender with a belt. I’d be trying it northbound, with hopes to arrive at Lakefield National Park by day’s end.
The first fifty kilometers of the track are easy money- pretty well just gravel roads. The first signs of deterioration come after the first “Y” fork, faintly marked by a discarded PFD with the word “STARCKE” inscribed on it with Sharpie. If you pass a long-dead Nissan Patrol sitting on its roof, you’re going the right way.
Big, rolling rocks start, and shortly after- the sand. Deep grain with pockets of really deep that require a full-commitment fistfull of throttle to make it thorough.
The sand lets up briefly, and the track passes through an abandoned outpost of some kind. A few Land Cruiser components still lying around and remnants of a sat-com setup suggest the place was vacated in a hurry… with a weakly-spinning windmill completing the eeriness.
There’s a short fast blast section out of the ruins, but the high speed action ends there. Pockets of bulldust like I’ve never seen are laying in wait between rough sand patches and tiny trees.
For those that haven’t experienced it- “bulldust” is an extremely soft and fine sand that can grab a tire with a sudden ferocity that’s almost impossible to prepare for… knocking you on your ass like, well, a bull.
It occurs in pockets on sandy trails and gravel roads alike. These pockets are very hard to see, and impossible to know the depth of.
If you don’t see bulldust in time, you’ll be wearing it.
After almost an hour of riding and at ten spills, I was starting to get fatigued and was seriously considering turning around. Finally I got railroaded into a half-meter deep rut and brought to an abrupt stop. The crash was minor… but the extraction process took no less than twenty minutes and I was relieved to calculate I hadn’t yet hit the Point of No Return.
Between all the gear I was carrying and lack of any communicative equipment, I talked myself into turning around and having a go at some of the other tracks further north. So I ripped a half-donut and fought back to the gravel road, turning northbound on Battle Camp Road- a much harder-packed (easier) route.
Like the Nissan and other wrecks I had passed, I had been defeated by the Starcke Track.
But my Cape York ride wasn’t over… and there were still plenty of opportunities to get myself stranded, lost or killed over the next week.
Next night’s camp even had entertainment- bulls, pigs, wallabies, there were creatures all over the place. I finally saw a pair of kangaroos boxing, but they weren’t keen on hosting spectators.
Cape York Solo: Part I of V
With the tour season over I had just one more goal to accomplish before I left Australia for the season: Cape York, solo.
And not just the development road.
Nah, I had done that in the support truck eight times already.
I needed to hit the Old Telegraph Line, Frenchman’s Track, and the little-known but exceptionally hazardous Starcke Track… runs I had been hearing about all year but never had the chance to attack. Finally, Magnus gave me the green-light to commandeer a motorcycle and the cogs were set in motion for a solo, unsupported assault on Cape York.
With the rain season looming ominously ahead, I would have to hustle. Because once the rain starts up there, it doesn’t stop until April. And it’s not just an inconvenient English drizzle; it’s relentlessly torrential and shuts down the road in mere hours.
So the morning after our end-of-season celebration dinner there I was, fitting a brand new billet cargo rack and Giant Loop tool bag to a DR-Z with the worst hangover I’d had since March 18th.
I was dragging my feet around the workshop all morning, but my spirits really sank when I saw the rack installation required drilling.
I looked at the yellow DeWalt on its charger with dread, knowing full well the vociferous screech it would inevitably generate as it tore a hole in the bike’s frame.
But, I manned up and we got it done.
Now it was time to get some K’s on the clock. First objective was to head inland so as to avoid making the entire six hundred kilometer cruise to Cairns on-road, and hopefully recover the swag that had fallen off the roof of the Isuzu two days prior. I rocked up to the Bowen River Hotel and was greeted by the usual crowd of mid-morning drunks I had become all-too-familiar with since making a habit of stopping at pubs for water. Luckily this lot was friendly, and they gave me advice on good places to camp along my northbound route.
As the sun went down the ‘roos came out in force and I cut my speed in half. I’m through messing around with those damn things.
Just around six o’clock I arrived at the Burkedin Dam- a magnificently imposing structure that looks straight out of GoldenEye. This is where I was hoping to camp as per the advice of the happy drinkers at Bowen River. But when I shined my light around, I couldn’t help but glint a large ‘NO CAMPING’ sign next to the shelter I was scouting for my tent.
But I looked at it again. And with a second interpretation it seemed like it actually said ‘nocam… ping’. Like, you know, somebody’s name. Yeah… a Canadian-Chinaman I’d say. This spot must be named after him.
Set up at old Mr. Ping’s place I got a fire going and boiled some pasta while I scribbled pictures of Mercedes W128s in my notebook. The view over the Stalingrad-esque dam wasn’t exactly romantic, but I was happy to be sleeping in the bush once again.
The next day’s ride brought me to the town of Ravenswood. Tucked deep in Queensland mining country, rolling through Ravenswood is like traveling fifty years back in time.
Granted, just using the internet in Australia is like traveling five years back in time so I guess it’s more like… forty-five…
are you following this logic?
Anyway I needed fuel, but with one look at the antique bowser I was sure I would break it if I touched it.
So I just starred at it until the woman working the till came out to render assistance.
Ravenswood was an experience, but the next “town” was even wackier- a place just a hundred or so clicks to the north called Mingela.
There were a few trailers scattered around, but the commercial buildings indicated the place had been abandoned quite some time ago. The fuel station had been partially dismantled, the store was boarded up and the pub was… run by a peacock?
He was a bit camera shy but look closely on the deck. See him?
He was the only resident I could find, and his customer service was shit. The beer I got was full of bird poop and smelled like a barnyard. Needless to say the Mingela Hotel will not be getting a favorable UrbanSpoon review.
I got back on the Bruce Highway briefly to make up some time. Then after a quick sausage roll break and lost key incident in Townsville I was ready to go off piste again.
I saw a sign for the Paluma National Forest and reckoned it was worth a look. I was rewarded with an amazing road up into the hills, wrought with hairpin corners and steep climbs for almost fifteen kilometers. Awesome.
Once the road straightened out it turned to gravel and lead me through some absolutely beautiful country. But when I reached a junction, I became a little confused. There was no such split on my map, and both roads seemed equally well used.
I went to the GPS… which said “right.”
Ok, here we go.
Two hours later I would remember I had left “off-road” mode activated, where it simply gives you a b-line to your destination, but the track I was on was crazy fun. A lot more technical than the previous road (because it wasn’t a road) and smack in the middle of nowhere.
I kept on for over an hour following cow paths before I started to get suspicious. I should have intersected with Mount Fox Road by now… and I was still in the middle of the woods.
I’m not talking a kilometer or two from the highway. I took a look around through the trees from a high point- trees stretched endlessly in all directions. Meanwhile the track I was on had pretty well deteriorated into just one set of bovine hoofprints. But I had been going north pretty much the whole time, I had to be pretty close to the road.
So I pressed on. Right over a giant log, right past a giant “Danger” sign, and right up the kiester of a big-ass bull.
I killed the engine and we stared at each other in silence. The track was only just wide enough for one of us; a vertical drop to the left and impenetrable jungle to the right. If I wanted to pass him I’d have to brush shoulders with the big bastard.
Hoping off the bike I approached the creature slowly. He had a mean expression on his face and a set of hangers the size of my long-range fuel tank.
A bull was the only thing I had ever seen my boss Magnus run from… if the jungle heat wasn’t enough to make me sweat, this beast starring me down was making me drown in my jacket.
I took one step closer and he jumped, with a big snort and a quick stamp.
Hhhoookay I’m outta here!
Backpedaling quickly I hustled to the bike, powered up and left him in a loud of grass clippings and exhaust. Well, looks like I’ll give the other way a go.
The other route, which I got back to rather quickly, had its own set of dangers. The woods all around the track were ablaze with bush fires, and my cam chain was starting to shake like a belly dancer.
Cruising down the other side of the range I had come up earlier that day, I could really listen to the engine, and it was not happy.
The rattle was reminiscent of the last bike we had to re-assemble deep in the Northern Territory two months earlier… a task I had neither the skills nor tools to accomplish alone.
By the time I made it back to the main road it sounded something fierce. I made camp and made a decision- I’d stop at the Suzuki dealer in the nearby town of Ingham and ask their opinion, then proceed or abort as advised.
The next day the boys at the shop confirmed my suspicions.
“Sounds like a cam chain mate. Or maybe big-end bearing.”
With a sigh, I turned around and limped south. Over three hundred kilometers of backtracking at 70 KPH. It was miserable in every sense of the word.
Pulling into the OAT base camp, I met a most surprised Magnus indeed.
“What are you doing here?”
I explained the situation… and he had a listen to the motor.
“Ah. Noisy, but it woulda made it.”
“Well what are you waiting for? Grab another bike and fuck off! You’re loosing daylight man.”
I could hardly believe my luck… just minutes ago I had rolled in with my tail between my legs, thinking I had forgone the adventure of the season… now I was back in business.
I swapped the cargo racks over to another DR-Z with some fuel in it, had a quick dinner, quick sleep, and kicked off again before the sparrow’s first fart the following day.
This time I made quick work of the journey to Cairns. No more mucking about on the side roads, I wanted two nights in my favorite sleaze bucket city and then a full-scale assault on Cape York.
After warming up on Black Mountain Road (see earlier post) I was officially in Far North Queensland and ready for the real challenges to start.
Our second trip across Australia (eastbound) was unusually slick, easy, and relatively disaster free.
No, I’m serious!
We had a group of six riders from all over the world that all knew how to handle a bike, got on well and loved every minute of the trip.
I cooked up my famous chili twice, and had a few more cracks at damper in the camp oven. Magnus’ signature curry went down brilliantly as well… something I reckon I’ll miss between seasons.
The only major disappointment- and it was a big one- was the fact that one of our DR-Z’s dropped a big end bearing on the first day. That’s one thing we just can’t fix in the bush… so I had to give up the guide bike I was riding and once again was relegated to the passenger seat of the support truck for the entire six thousand kilometer punt across the world’s biggest island.
But…. at least I wasn’t in searing pain this time.
It was Magnus’ turn for that. The poor bastard was still nursing a sore abdomen and hip from his crash at Safari, having broken multiple ribs just ten days before driving over the Simpson desert.
True to his living legend status he toughed it out and muscled the truck, broke chains, and changed tires like an absolute animal without complaining. Too much.
The desert had a much different look to it this time around. More time had passed since the unusually wet rain season, and bush fires had ripped through a lot of the spindly camel grass that had covered nearly all of the Simpson when I rode it in August.
“Now that’s what I expected this place to look like.”
On the second to last day we came to the spot where I hit the kangaroo that put me in the Barcaldine hospital months earlier. Sure enough the carcass was still there, although it had almost completely returned to the Earth. I took a photo with him but resisted the temptation to grab a bike and do a burnout on his body… wouldn’t want the tire to stink for the rest of the ride.
When we arrived at Airlie Beach two days later, we hit the Mexican restaurant for one last team dinner and a celebration- it was the first year in OAT history for a Perfect 100% Season. Every client who started a trip, finished. The only people who bought nights in the hospital all year were Magnus and myself.
You know you’re in an exciting industry when every member of your staff gets hospitalized on the job.
That night we partied hard… apparently, because I have no clue how I got back into my hotel downtown when I woke up there the next day.
It was hard to believe the season was over. With literally tens of thousands of kilometers in trucks, bikes, and ambulances behind me since April, cruising around this giant country seems like just another day in the office.
Which, I guess, it is.
Now I’m off for one more assault on Cape York- hoping to have a go at the Starcke Track, Frenchman’s Track and the Old Telegraph Line…. Solo. Before the rain season starts and the entire region becomes inaccessible.
With Safari done and dusted, bossman Magnus and spanner-swinger extraordinaire Rodger hooked the bike trailer up to the Isuzu and prepared to make the commute back to Perth. The following day Rodger would catch a flight home and Magnus would spend some time with his mum.
I opted to stay in Kalgoorlie with one of the Suzukis. Magnus, ever being an enabler of adventure, had suggested I take the week off to hit the John Holland Track (JHT)- a fairly serious run between nearby Coolgardie and a town called Jerramungup. After a week of being around racing I was dead keen to get behind the handlebars, so I was all over it. Plus our friend and repeat-customer Carl lived near the southern end of the run and was willing to show me around, so I’d have a guide in the famous Fitzgerald River region of southern W.A.
Problems started later than usual on this one. About thirty seconds after the Isuzu disappeared down the highway I turned the key and hit the button on the DR-Z… but try as it might to turn over, the fucking thing would not start.
I looked around and tried to work it out. The bike had run like a dream half an hour ago. Hell, the thing had just completed a six-thousand kilometer endurance event. I thought about calling Magnus, but I knew as soon as I did I’d see the problem and look like an idiot. But if I waited too long, and it was something serious, it’d be a huge inconvenience for him to drive all the way back.
Bugger it. I’ll call him, and then I’ll see the problem. Look like an idiot but at least the bike will start.
He didn’t pick up. And thank god, because by the fourth ring I could see I had left the fuel cutoff in the “OFF” position.
The “problem” was rectified and I was on my way. After stocking up on food I headed down the highway for Coolgardie. It was less than two hundred clicks away, but it would be the most miserable stretch of the entire trip.
The rain started as soon as I left town and didn’t stop until I pulled into a fuel station a couple hours later.
Desperate for warmth and shelter I ducked in to the servo as soon as I saw it. I ordered a pizza and put my clothes on the pie warmer to dry them out. The old guy working the till said something like “nice day for a ride,” …typical.
The pizza was actually not bad, for gas station food. Better yet, by the time I was done with it the rain had stopped and I was ready to hit the track.
The north end of the JHT is well marked with Land Cruiser Club stickers and warnings; “Don’t set the forest on fire, don’t poop in the middle of the track,” all the standard stuff. Not planning to do either I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. This track isn’t exceptionally difficult, but it is long and there’s no fuel, water or medical service available at any point along the way.
No worries, I had a satellite phone I didn’t know how to use and a SPOT tracker… I didn’t have batteries for. Huh.
The track took me two days with a few crashes (one blackout) and minor damage to luggage… my sleeping bag became detached over a big bump and rammed itself between my rear wheel and chain. It was left a bit grimy but, miraculously, intact.
The track itself is quite flat. Mostly loose sand with lots of blind corners, a few rocky sections, and even fewer ruts. The sand’s not deep but requires a lot of standing and steering with your feet. It’s hard to get lost- there’s only one road. In the places there are forks, there’s a little “HT” sign with an arrow to guide you. But I do mean little… I came off a few times trying to find it at speed. Make the wise choice and bring your machine to a stop before you try and figure out the way.
‘Roos, weird birds and bobtail rock lizards are over the place… I think I made this one mad when I tried to powerslide around his favorite rock pile.
The JHT dumps you out (at the south end) near a town called Hyden where you can refuel and get kickass pastries.
My course had me heading further south to meet up with Carl later that night… or so I thought. I checked the oil on the DR-Z as the rain had brought a couple substantial water crossings to the track. Did I mention the torrential rain and lightning I slept through the previous night? Ah, you probably know how my luck goes by now.
Anyway the oil looked like a snotty milkshake- telltale sign of water contamination. I was not happy.
I couldn’t ride the machine any further without risking serious internal damage… and I had enough oil for one change. So I flushed the engine and tested it again… but there were still enough bubbles to cause me concern.
Now I could ride back to Hyden to buy more oil, but the shops would be closed by the time I got there. Meanwhile I was too far from phone signal to apprise Carl I’d be a day late… and him knowing my reputation, he’d probably send out a search party by the next morning.
I decided to camp out the night and do another oil change as early as possible the next day.
When I woke up I skipped breakfast and headed straight to the nearest place I thought might sell 4T engine oil… an agricultural supply depot in a place called Newdgate. A South African named Ashton was running the place, who most generously lent me the use of his workshop to perform a proper oil change. He looked for a new filter I might use, but he didn’t have anything for engines under eight liters.
The DR-Z looked pretty diminutive in the workspace usually occupied by Cat D90’s and twelve-wheeled John Deere’s, but I was grateful for the roof.
I tried getting in touch with Carl, his girlfriend Mel, or Magnus as soon as I got to a payphone… only Mags picked up, who had been pretty concerned I had met an ugly fate with a kangaroo the previous night.
Carl, who had indeed been out searching for me, rendezvoused with me in Newdgate and I followed him to his place. He gave me some great food and a place to stay the night, plus tips on where to ride further south the following day.
“There’s a lotta great tracks in the Fitzgerald River park, but if you don’t know you’re way it’s easy to get lost.”
Fitzgerald is an amazing place. Wide dirt roads, tight sand tracks, amazing beaches and salt flats make it a great place to enjoy the southern coast of Western Australia.
But those last five words of Carl’s were ringing true at about five o’clock the next day, by which time I had killed another kangaroo with my front tire, climbed the highest peak in the park (all three hundred meters) and gotten myself completely, utterly, and hopelessly lost.
The tracks in and around the southern end of the park are sandy, windy, and great bloody fun, but they sneak into the forest every-which-way and after tearing through ten intersections at eighty kilometers per hour you start to get… disoriented.
I had a huge crash on a deep-sand fast blast section and stopped to re-evaluate my situation.
I was coming out of another blackout low on fuel, low on water, tired, and very much alone. Summoning otherworldly strength to get the bike back on its wheels without puking I calculated my rough position based on the map, the sun’s position, and the wind turbine I could see a few kilometers away at the town of Bremer Bay.
Unfortunately, the “straight” route to the turbine and town was impassible, so I had to get creative and skirt the bike-swallowing sand through the trees.
I finally made it to town twenty minutes before the servo was closing. Refueled, and headed back to the main road. The next day I would make Bridgetown, where Magnus and the truck were waiting to reprovision for our next trip across Australia.
A lot of time’s gone by since the Australasian Safari… and a lot has happened since we said goodbye to our fellow racers and friends at the finish line in Kalgoorlie.
But you never trusted this site to be timely, anyway did you?
I could give you a stat sheet on who was there, who was riding what and who won, but if you wanted that information you would have found it somewhere else a long time ago.
So here’s a quick reflection on what transpired in the Team OAT camp.
We picked up our service crew at Perth International on September 20th. Okay, so it was one guy. Fresh off the jet from Albuquerque, New Mexico, our friend Rodger is a beer-swilling, spanner-swinging badass that we were confident could carry the team in the service department.
Magnus ran in to the terminal to find him while I was left in the truck to argue with the TSA officers about whether or not the massive Isuzu would fit in short-term parking.
Later that day we met the three other riders we would be supporting for the week, heavy-set Aussie blokes from Melbourne with enough body armor in their luggage to start a war with Sparta.
Our team assembled, we piled in the Isuzu and motored to the bike/car show and ceremonial start- followed by the KTM Kickoff Party at the Breakwater Club.
Most in attendance were rocking sport coats and heeled shoes… we rolled up covered in grease, but were allowed in with a quick flash of the team logos on our jackets.
While most other teams had spent the day polishing their helmets and signing autographs we had been flat-out for the last three days putting bikes together… and Magnus’ race bike didn’t even have tires on it yet. Rally racing legends Cyril Despres and Ben Grabham were there, among others, and Despres’ race bike was toted out for the admiration of onlookers. When Magnus saw the $130,000 work of art, he got inspired demanded his race bike look at least as cool by the end of the next day… so it was an early night for Rodger and I, leaving before last call for once in the hopes of starting another big day with just a mild hangover.
The actual start of the race was over a hundred kilometers north of where the party had taken place, so the day before the prologue (pre-race race that determines everybody’s starting position) we packed up and boogied to the town of Geraldton with motorcycles in tow. It was the first time I had seen the cab of the Isuzu full… and I hope the last. There may be enough seat belts for six men, but no cab is ventilated enough to support those oxygen consumption/fart expulsion ratios.
Once racing action got underway, Safari truly evolves from just an “event” to an experience. Helicopters sawing the air overhead, power tools wailing all through the night, radios going ballistic and engines roaring like dragons create a sensory-overland that rivals Japanese game shows combined with that first scene in “Saving Private Ryan”.
It’s enough to make any motorhead think he may very well have died and gone to heaven… I’d take a rally-spec Husaberg 570 over seventy two virgins any day.
But desert racing isn’t all money for nothing and chicks for free. This shit’s dangerous… which we learned all too well on Day 2 of the seven day event. While waiting at a checkpoint for our racer to show up, Roger and I heard some chatter on the radio that was most disconcerting indeed.
Bike 22, our rider in the field, had washed out and couldn’t finish the stage. And more, he was being evacuated by helicopter and rushed to Meekathara Hospital- five hundred kilometers away.
I had seen Magnus ride over, around, and through obstacles I couldn’t even look at without falling off. To hear about him coming off was disconcerting to say the least, but nothing could prepare us from what we saw at the hospital. After the six-hour punt across the desert, Rodger and I rocked up on the outpost medical center and rang the doorbell. The nurse knew who we wanted to see as soon as she spotted our truck, and we followed her to the bed our racer was lying on, looking worse than Gary Busey in a mug shot. We could barely hear his voice over the heart monitor, but he was conscious enough to greet us with his typical candor; “You’re a long way from tonight’s rally point.”
Mags told us to carry on supporting the rest of the riders, and to expect him at the event’s closing ceremony and afterparty in just under a week. Orders taken, we headed for the door and prepared for the massive drive ahead. As I hit the threshold Magnus summoned the strength for one more comment;
“Andrew. Be careful. With my truck.”
On the way out I chatted up the nurses a bit. They weren’t sold on the idea of motorcycle racing as a good way to spend your days and dollars…
“So you just, ride around the desert all day?”
“No, I mean, you have to follow a certain route, and go as fast as you can while navigating unknown territory.”
“And then fall off and get sent here?”
“Uh, well, ideally no…”
I could tell the conversation was drying up, and we had a long way to go to the next waypoint; a town called Sandstone.
The ride back was hell. The desert was pitch dark, the road was bumpy, and kangaroos were bouncing off the bumper like popcorn kernels in the microwave. We finally rolled into the bivouac around 9:00PM and recovered the race bike… which we saw Magnus had stubbornly tried to tape back together before calling in an evac. It was a valiant effort… but where there’s a will there ain’t always a way.
The day after the crash brought its own set of disasters. Rodger and I were now in charge of Team OAT, as acting face, hands and brains of the entire operation. We would have to clean up our act and start acting like real professionals and uphold the sterling standard Magnus would set if he were around… by using the Bear Grylls signature knife as much as possible, answering questions with riddles, and being the first team to open beers every day.
But first, we’d have to get out of the parking lot.
Rodger and I had been disagreeing on the necessity of locking the truck when leaving it… which lead to the incident of the doors being secured while the keys were in the ignition.
“No problem, there’s an extra set in the yellow Pelican case.”
“You mean that one on the back seat?”
We had to innovate. We considered picking the lock, removing the windshield, and using the angle-grinder to add a permanent sunroof… but none of those options really seemed viable.
Finally I spotted a crew with the same model of Isuzu. I approached and asked them if they had any insight. Naturally, they began by responding with sarcasm; “Got a brick?” but came over to help when they realized how distraught I was.
The driver of the other NPS showed me a battery access point in the rear of the cab’s underbelly. Too small to crawl through, but maybe big enough to get an arm…
I pushed through the panel and flailed my hand around while Rodger watched from the other side and guided me.
“Not even close.”
We didn’t have it yet… but we were on to something. I grabbed the longest screwdriver we had and made another attempt and knocking the lock mechanism, but the angle still wasn’t quite right.
After three more stages of evolution, genius struck. We could roll down the window much more easily than undo the lock, and so we set to contriving a new tool. We added a few inches to our extra-long screwdriver by taping a handlebar riser on he end, then proceeded to secure a large hose clamp to the end of that.
I wiggled the ridiculous contraption through the panel and moved it toward the window with Rodger’s audible guidance.
The window came down about four inches after forty minutes of laboring, with enough room for me to weasel my scrawny arm in and undo the lock on the left rear door.
Rodger and I cheered, slapped hands and bumped guts in a display worthy of a Superbowl touchtown.
Of course by this point everyone had cleared out… our truck was left alone in the middle of the desert. But it mattered little- we were victorious and would make it to the next bivouac with beers open before the first teams had the carburetors stripped.
If we step on it.
We rolled into the Leonora bivouac and night’s camp early, striding straight through the parking field and into a central location where we flung open the doors and proceeded to unload our cargo. Sun was hot, Jimmy Buffet was pouring out of the stereo and life was good. But it wasn’t long before the Fun Police arrived to curtail our moment of glory;
“Hey guys, did you get a map of tonight’s parking area?”
“Didja look at it?”
I could see where this was going… so I answered honestly.
We had parked in the caterer’s spot- a decision that would be most unpopular indeed when hungry racers showed up in a few hours.
So we piled everything on the trailer and dragged it ten meters forward to satisfy the race official… who threw his hands up in disbelief as another race team proceeded to occupy the space we had just left. I could hear the official repeating his comment as we re-installed our tents and tables.
Later that night we had a run in with the other Fun Police… this time, the guys with blue hats and guns.
Determined to uphold Team OAT’s “reputation”, Rodger and I convinced the mechanics from Team Husqvarna to come to the bar with us for a pint.
But once we got there, we learned we had shown up on a night when the barmaids were working the taps in lingerie. Apparently this is a Western Australia tradition, but in any case I had a hard time convincing the rest of the boys I not been apprised of it beforehand.
Photos were, let’s say “discouraged”, which is a damn shame- because the scene was something to behold.
Imagine a bar full of hard-faced and tattooed miners, being served by women in bikinis who were, let’s say “overweight”, and us standing in the middle wearing race gear and expressions of sheer astonishment. My bright white BMW jacket was pretty tough to miss between coal-stained work jerseys, and I estimated we had six-point-five seconds before I got my ass kicked. But we were determined to stick it out for a round, and whaddaya know, all was forgiven after a couple rounds of Jim Beam.
I folded my arms to avoid brushing the sleeves of my favorite jacket against the walls as my friends tried their hands at hitting on the strippers. Everyone was describing their jobs on the team until the barmaid, Kelisha or Kaylie or whatever, looked my way; “So what’s that make you, the pretty boy who does fuck all?”
At least she said I was pretty… I guess. Damn, are Australian chicks mean. A flood of retorts came to mind at various levels of offensiveness but not wanting spit in my next beverage I decided to take the high road;
“Hardly! I drive the truck.”
“Oh, I thought you were the guy who just stands around and looks good and doesn’t do anything.”
The boys were having a proper laugh at this point, and I had no clue if this chick was trying to flirt with me or make me cry. Rodger came to my rescue; “No, he figured out how to break in to the truck the other day!”
The conversation deteriorated from there as we convinced each other to buy more rounds. Finally a cowbell interrupted our babble and one of the barmaids yelled over the noise; “THAT’S IT BOYS, EVERYBODY GO HOME!”
I stumbled out into the street… I mean the one street in town… and into the arms of the local constable.
“Oy! Good-day, man. Any idea where the camp is?” I burbled in Australian/American hybrid vernacular.
One of the Husky guys helped me articulate; “Yeah, yeah we’re with the race cars! Is there a short cut back to the camp?”
The cops laughed and shook their heads.
“Yeah, mate we know yer with the race cars.”
The first officer looked at the second, and motioned to their vehicle- a Police spec Hilux with a big plastic holding cell on the back instead of a cargo tray.
We were all pretty rapt at the idea of getting a free ride home, especially if it was in the back of a paddy wagon.
We piled in the back and laughed like idiots as we got tossed from one side to another when the cop driving jerked the wheel. The cops parked in the middle of the bivouac and we spilled out of their vehicle. We thanked them for the ride and they left with a laugh and something like “good luck tomorrow.”
The boys from Team GHR Honda, hard at work on their CRF 450’s, glanced up and laughed like hyenas when they saw us stumble into our swags from the care of Mr. Plod.
Reputation: intact. If anything, I’d say improved.
A few days later we arrived in Kalgoorlie for the end of the race and the afterparty. Nearly everyone we knew who was competing had dropped out or sustained serious injury, and Magnus had since been transferred from Meekathara to the major hospital in Perth. But so determined was he to show up for the event’s closing ceremony that he hopped a bus from Perth Royal to the train station, and rode the rails for eight hours to meet up with us in Kal.
I parked the Isuzu, extra carefully, at the train station and Rodger and I headed to the platform to await our fearless leader. When his train showed up, they kicked him off about a hundred meters away from us.
For twenty minutes we watched him hobble toward us with broken ribs and a hematoma in his hip the size of a football. But he did look better than the last time we had seen him; prone and hooked up to a heart monitor.
We exchanged salutations and he snatched the keys as we headed for the truck.
“You sure you want to drive, man?” I said hopelessly, knowing full well my truck-commanding privileges had expired with the arrival of the boss.
“Yep. Gotta toughen up some time.”
He winced as he pulled himself into the driver’s seat, but was clearly pleased to be back in his “office”.
We updated him on what had transpired in his absence, and he was especially glad we hadn’t resorted to violence against the truck in our efforts to liberate the key.
Everyone at the bivouac was glad to see Magnus back in action, and congratulations were issued to the finishers over Coronas at the Kalgoorlie country club.
The Australasian Safari was a mind-blowing event that hooked me into racing that much more… if that was possible. I’m dead keen to give it go on two wheels next year, we’ll see if I can work it in to my compensation package next year.
Black Mountain Road (BMR) is a great track about twenty clicks north of Cairns, QLD that I had the chance to explore on my last trip to Cape York. Running about forty kilometers between Kuranda and Julatten, it’s a chance to get off the pavement early if you’re heading up north… worth checking out especially when the Bloomfield and C.R.E.B. tracks are closed to the east.
It’s a windy single-laner with a hundred blind turns and kicker jumps the whole way. Yeah, that good.
By “jumps” I mean lips formed by rain runoff… uh, don’t mention that to the Ranger.
Despite being chock-full of whoops and hairpin turns just loose enough to step out the rear wheel, BMR is on National Park land and square in the middle of cassowary* country. So try and behave yourself.
*Cassowaries, for you non-Australian readers, are large (human-sized) land birds with blue feathers, a sharp blade on their head and a nasty attitude. They’re quite rare but extremely dangerous, having been known to slice people up and eat them for dinner. Forget drop-bears, these things are the meanest thing going most people have never seen. I was told they’re especially fond of Americans… better keep that engine running.
My first run up BMR was northbound around mid-morning. It was easy enough to find, with a big yellow sign delineating its location off the Kennedy Highway.
The southern half of the track is somewhat open, but after about ten kilometers the jungle puts the squeeze on and before you know it you’re blasting through a tunnel of trees, leaves and vines.
Some of those vines are as light as they look- others will clothesline you right off your saddle. Naturally, I learned this the hard way when I caught a big spiny fern with my right arm, adding a few more scars to my well-loved ballistic jacket. Other than that I managed to clear the track without incident. BMR is highly recommended if you’re in the Cairns area and need a quick blat down the dirt. I reckon it’s some of the best fun you can have in the jungle without a long-range fuel tank.
Ten days after my first ride up this road I was back at its northern juncture, this time southbound from the Cape. With about six hundred kilometers already on the clock that day and the sun getting low, I figured it would be pretty dangerous and irresponsible to have go in the dark.
Then again, it would also be badass.
By the time I got to the trailhead dusk was coming to an end, and the dirt lane disappeared quickly into blackness. It was so ominous and foreboding I was scared shitless already… and I hadn’t even heard the bats yet. But I knew I had to do it, otherwise I’d be gibing myself for being a pussy all the way back to Cairns.
So down the rabbit hole I went- high beam on, engine wailing and eyes unblinking. I had forgotten to check my odometer when I started… a mistake I sincerely regretted about ten minutes into the trip, when I really wanted to be on the other end of the road and had no clue how far I had left.
With no visibility whatsoever beyond what my headlight could hit, the day’s third Red Bull wearing off and a paralyzing fear of cassowaries in the back of my mind, the danger factor of this ride was increasing quickly.
I really didn’t want to stop, lest the cassowaries would come claw my eyes out, but I had to get some photos otherwise nobody would believe I did this run at night. So I grabbed the brakes and shut down the engine, fumbling for my camera with my clumsy gloves on.
I thought my exhaust was rude… but it didn’t hold a candle to the cacophony brough on by the bats, birds, bugs and whateverthehell else lives out there were making once my engine went quiet.
I snapped a couple pictures and powered back up… quickly. No chance for a shot off the bike, I was way too scared to leave the saddle.
Here’s a clip of the sounds and sights, or lack thereof the latter.
Completed my open water diving certification, spent a few days working in a frozen seafood facility and got the hell out of Cairns.
I’m writing this with electricity from our support truck and internet from Magnus’ iPhone. Racers are studying their road books for the competition twelve hours away, and spectators are standing around telling stories that get taller as each beer gets shorter.
Magnus and I have already covered over 2,000 kilometers in the Isuzu PSN 250 Crew SiTEC Series II 155 Euro IV that I’ll be calling home for the next six months… so after this post RoadRoving updates will follow the journey, in chronological order, from the day before our first departure. If you’re trying to stay chronological, scroll down to the first title you haven’t read before you dive into it. Got that, mum?
I’ve been bumping Bollywood dance jams all day… and they only thing crazier than their beats is their music videos.
Any Road Rover will appreciate this one in particular: Huey helicopters, motorcycle stunts, and a very easy-on-the-eyes Indian babe. And is that sexy bed being towed on a flatbed? Mmm nothing like snuggling with your woman while a 10 liter diesel burps in your face.
Enjoy this video but don’t get too many ideas. If I ever spot any of you riding a CBR in a pleather vest with Oakleys from 1995, I’m banning you from the site.
And uh, if you’re watching this at work — I wouldn’t.
I’m not as sure about the song itself, but it does kick up a bit about 1:40 in.
Got home from a ride to discover this lovely addition to my rear tire:
Typical- the tires were one of the few things I was NOT planning on replacing this season.
I thought about going on a tirade about how people should keep their godamn cars together so they don’t drop parts all over the street- but I’m guessing somebody in Vermont started a hardware store selling only pieces my Land Rover dropped in the four years I owned it. So I’ll accept this as the road’s revenge.
When the tire hadn’t lost any pressure in about four hours, I got the balls to “unscrew” the piece. Sure enough, it hadn’t even punched all the way through the Dunlop’s thick rubber.
I’ll be keeping an eye on it… but I think a couple burnouts and a 100 MPH run should heat up the tire and seal it up for good.
Another shakedown ride.
I’m getting ready to make tracks over the highway when the engine quits before I hit the on ramp.
It fires right back up, so I attribute it to driver error.
I hang on for dear life as I get up to… the speed limit… and cruise for about a mile when the bike starts bucking like a mechanical bull.
In a panic I squeeze the brakes and start dropping gears.
On the side of the highway the bike won’t start. But what the hell had happened? No leaks… no weird smells… plenty of power from the battery.
After about twenty minutes of scratching my ass the damn thing starts up and runs again like nothing happened.
Suspicious but desperate to get off the highway I motor toward the next exit. Halfway down the ramp; dead again.
Now I was in a really bad place to be stopped.
Despite the bike’s 550lb girth, I was able to push it very slowly to the road, and later a parking lot. Have you ever heard of a mother summoning inhuman strength to save her child?
I think my brain functions along similar lines, if the “person” in danger is my motorcycle. Pretty pathetic.
Anyway at this point I thought I could use a second opinion. Jeff was kind enough to drive over and help me diagnose, but he couldn’t shed much light on the problem.
And yet again, after about 30 minutes of sitting the bike sprang to life and was able to make it all the way home to the house.
Desperate to asses the problem and capitalize on the quickly waning motorcycle season, I took the gas tank off, inspected all the wires, hoses, fuel petcock, spark plugs, and filters.
I drained the carbs a bit to see if they were getting gas, and indeed they were- it didn’t even look chunk and shitty as I had feared. It’s likely that the bucking was just caused by some bad gas, or water getting inside the fuel as a result of not being used for a long time. Now it was just a matter of cleaning everything up and putting it back together to re-evaluate the situation.
After a nightmare run-around day between the dealer, DMV and insurance company, the bike is finally ready for the road. Jeff drives me to pick it up, and of course the cockbags at Cycles128 take 45 minutes getting my bike out of the warehouse.
At least one staff member was kind enough to show me how to check the oil and give me a few pointers on care and feeding of the bike. He stressed the importance of keeping the carbs clean.
And just like that… the moment arrived: I was perched on my GSXR with permission to legally enter the open road. I’m timid on the throttle getting out of the parking lot. Hit the friction zone, and the machine moves with a lot more force than you would expect from such a small engine.
But once I get a feel for the clutch and venture onto Brimbal Ave I waste no time giving the throttle a quick twist to see what kind of beast I had just bought myself.
My neck is literally snapped back and I find myself fighting off a wheelie. This thing is fucking fast.
With each meter I progress I get more comfortable with the bike, the seating position, and the throttle. I feel a kind of elation I literally have never thought possible. I bet this is how Anna felt about skydiving.
Jeff was kind enough to babysit my first ride from many car lengths back in his Porsche. He had already been very helpful in the purchase process… offering a great deal of insight and diagnostic before I made a bid.
I want to keep him in my mirror, in case some kind of disaster befalls me, mechanical or otherwise. But every thirty seconds or so I can’t resist a down shift and subsequent blast from 25-50 MPH. The bike and I were quickly becoming familiar.
But alas, I had a meeting to go to and the bike would have to be put away for a bit. So I was subject to the unreasonable torture of discussing something other than my motorcycle at great length, while I watched it sit listlessly in the parking lot.
A couple hours later I was balls deep in Excel trying to interpret a formula that calculated the amount of carbon was put into the air for every square foot of lawn you mowed using gasoline. But all I wanted to calculate was whether or not my twenty-year-old race horse was still up to the 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds it was capable of when new.
At about 5:00, I answered the call. I cruised around Wenham a bit, then found myself at a 128 onramp. And not just any onramp- the one at exit 16 with a runway-length merge lane. Sounds like the perfect place to test my stats.
I entered the onramp in third. Then figured fuck it, I’d be a pussy if I didn’t start in second. But wow… it’s still not even halfway up the tach at 30 MPH in second. Do I dare, shift to first at this speed?
7k something and I’m doing about thirty. Clear stretch of road in front of me, the usual assorted Volvos and minivans making their way northbound.
I get on the throttle- smooth and steady. I’ve already gotten to know this bike well enough not to fuck around.
But a little goes a long way with 116 HP pushing 700 lbs.
¾ throttle and power barfed from the pistons like Niagara Falls with a hangover.
The exhaust let out the sound a tyrannosaurus would make if he saw you banging his girlfriend.
And I became actively concerned that I might piss my pants.
60,70,80,90aaand time to relax.
I had no clue what gear I was in but from my perspective it looked like the moms in Mercedes SUVs sharing the highway with me were going about zero.
I reeled it in to 50 MPH and ducked into the loser lane to collect myself.
Once the brain-sucking insanity passes I have some time to assess the reality of my current situation. Predictably, the sport bike has its own set of pro’s and con’s. Let’s face it- it’s not that comfortable. My hands hurt from leaning so hard on them… or perhaps from the white-knuckle deathgrip I have going. The blaring exhaust noise is a bit inconvenient at the times when it’s not psyching me up- but since so far that’s “never”, I think I can manage. The fairings really do more for stability than I would have imagined. Even at highway speeds, this thing is planted. Nothing like dad’s GS which gets awful windy above 50 MPH.
It will take living with the thing to really get a feel for how it will last as a long-term bike.
It has been a pretty crazy few days.
Last I caught wind that the local motorcycle shop was auctioning off some inventory on September 12. Intrigued by the idea of two-wheeled performance at undercut prices, I cased out the warehouse with my fellow petrolhead Jeff the day before.
There was quite a collection of machinery to behold.
The warehouse was full of motorcycles, weird electric trucks, quads, dirt bikes… even some random junk like water pumps and a broken tire balancer. Outside there was a 40′ Formula boat that had seen better days… a few old stand-up Jet Skis and some snowmobiles. So it was pretty much a Maine Wal-Mart parking lot.
Despite all the junk packing the floor, there was one diamond in the rough nestled between a Goldwing and a badly-abused Ducati 999.
A 1991 Suzuki GSXR750; one of my favorite motorcycles of all time. I love the dual front headlights and taillights plus the graphics are nice and geometric- no tribal graphics or claw marks to be found. I felt a semi coming on and decided to take a closer look.
Vehicle is very clean all around. Very minor wear on plastics especially for its age. As this is a reconstruction title, it is likely that the plastics are newer than the bike itself. Everything works, except low-beam headlights and “Cyclops” running light. Likely blown fuse, possible blown filament and bulb respectively.
Engine fires up quickly and smells decent. Revs smoothly. Somewhat “gassy” smell, possibly due to running rich or from the gas tank vent which is missing its hose… this hose would usually direct the gas fumes to the ground, rather than toward the rider’s face as is the current situation.
Will not idle near stock 1,200 RPM level, it dies if brought down this low. Idle will survive at around 2,500 RPM lowest.
Clutch friction zone is significantly “further out” than most other vehicles I have driven- yet no sign of slippage even under hard acceleration, so I think this is just a characteristic of the motorcycle that I’m not yet used to.
Tires are matching and in good condition- so probably no burnouts (or not too many). Aftermarket exhaust has surface rust, likely installed a long time ago. Adjustable brake lever appears to be aftermarket. Brakes are excellent. Bar-end caps may be aftermarket. Windscreen may be aftermarket. No aftermarket sprocket- so this wasn’t a stunt bike. No skull decals or “No Fear” stickers, which were dealbreakers on some of the other bikes up for auction.
I decided I would make a pass at it.
On our way home from the warehouse I hit the bank to free up some cash… the auction fee was 3% lower for cash-paying customers. And this way I was limited to the amount I had on me, I couldn’t pressure myself into whipping out the Visa.
When we got to the auction the next day, the warehouse was abuzz with fat guys in hunting camo hats that might have well said “Git R Dun.”
The selling process was exactly how I imagined an auction would go, but it’s a lot more intense in person than it is on TV. Especially when your own, real, money is on the line.
The bike I wanted was #27B, which took a surprisingly long time to get to.
We sat through everything from quads to water pumps and the shittiest garden trailer I had ever seen. Right before our bike was the Ducati.
Finally Lot 27B rolled up. I was getting seriously pumped, and I had to piss like a racehorse. The auctioneer called out a price that I could not decipher, but I threw my card up anyway in the excitement. Thank god, that number turned out to be low. One more bid from somewhere in the crowd. I raise my card again to up my bid. The auctioneer won’t stop yelling, trying to psych up the crowd to spend some money. “Shut the f*k up and sell me that motorcycle.” it feels like an eternity and the bike is still on the block, but I’ve got the high bid.
When the hammer hits the table and Jeff slaps me five, I can hardly believe what just happened. The Suzuki was mine, and for half of the money I had allowed myself to spend.
I’d liken the feeling to somewhere between the first time I had sex and when I beat Halo 3 on legendary with my college roommate. So, pretty awesome.
Now began the worst part of ownership- the dealer had my money but all I had was this lousy slip of paper, and the task of going to the insurance company, DMV, back again, ect ect, before I could get this animal on the road.
Before we left, I was allowed to move the bike from the parking lot the auctioneers moved it to after I won it back into the warehouse for safe keeping until I could pick it up. Such a tease… I didn’t even get the clutch all the way out.
After coming across this image:
I felt like it was time for another homage to motorcycle babes. Enjoy.
As if firemen needed any help getting laid, the Merseyside (England) Fire & Rescue Service just hooked themselves up with two firefighting motorcycles.
The big trucks will be retained for the serious conflagrations, but the idea behind these bikes is why send a huge fire truck that will clog traffic and guzzle fuel when only a small fire is at hand.
Deputy Fire Chief Hagen said that 62 percent of the fires they dealt with were small, and so this method seems like a good play.
For a six-month test period, the service will employ BMW RT1200s already tuned-up for police use now equipped with a 30 meter fire hose and tanks to carry 50 liters of water.
Rumor has it that sidecars for the firehouse dalmatian were ordered as well, but were cut when it was decided at town meeting that it would give the fireman a “completely unfair advantage while trying to score with all two of the non-ugly women in Merceyside.”
Check out a video of these bad boys in action here: