Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Old & New SR500 – Longwood, Roos, Sheep & Darkness

Last Sunday (30/08) I took my 1978 SR500 on its maiden country ride on the new engine. Some friends came around and we put the new engine in a couple of weeks ago. Then there was no oil pressure but a mechanic I know helped me out with that for the cost of a six-pack. I rode the bike around town for a week and finally on Sunday it was time to take the thing out for a proper all-day ride in the hills. Joining me was my mate Marlon, whose SR400 engine is in Sydney being hot-rodded by an SR specialist, so he borrowed the GR650.

We did the King Lake National Park and Whittlesea to Yea roads. On the way up I saw something moving at the side of the road and got on the brakes as it focussed into the form of a big kangaroo.  It bounded across my path and was almost hit by a car coming the other way who was obviously paying scant attention to the world outside his cage.

At Yea we had lunch and headed north via Highlands to take the now well-trodden path via Ruffy to Longwood. Here we are at Ruffy:

We stopped at the White Hart Hotel for a beer, discussing SR modifications and how not to waste one’s life in meaningless material aspirations.

Then we took the same route back, swapping bikes to compare notes and so that I could judge each of my rides in the fresh light of each other. The SR performed well, although she is currently running too high a ratio on the sprockets – I have ordered and am awaiting more – which will hopefully solve the sensation of being over-stretched and powerless when attempting to ride uphill at 100kph. The engine is not only smaller in stroke by 100cc, but has a lighter flywheel, and the result is that I have lost the thumpiness and torque and lower powerband of the 500 engine, something which I greatly miss as this is what attracts me to the bike, but has traded it up for a much more easy-revving engine, meaning that the highway is less stressful. The bike used to sit on the highway at around 4000rpm, which felt stressed, but now 4000rpm is comfortable for cruising generally, and she runs at 5000rpm at 100kph.

I thought this difference in rpm would mean that the SR would lose its charm as a big single, but upon swapping with Marlon and riding the 650 twin again, I realised just how distinctively big single the SR still is. I guess it is now more like an example of what a British road-going single would have been like in the late 70s. When Marlon rounded a corner from behind me at Highlands and pulled up, it was like watching a scene from Heartbeat, and the bike once again evoked the mid-century motorcycle that gives me such imaginative pleasure. But really the SR is now simply a better example of what a road-dedicated big single looked like in the 1970s evolution which was the SR.  The 500 never quite got it right because it was essentially the XT500 dirt-focussed engine put on the road. The 400 is so much more highway capable.

We took some shots at Highlands:

We then proceeded to Strath Creek for petrol and coffee, and as dusk descended we headed on towards Broadford. Cruising along at about 80kph I saw some cows ahead on the side of the road. Motorcycle forums have exposed me to the death of fellow-riders through collisions with cattle. I got on the brakes and waved wildly to Marlon with the motorcyclists’ symbols for “Slow down quickly! Danger!” then rode slowly past them. Marlon though I was referring to a fire out in the paddock, he didn’t see the cows and kept his speed until one dashed on to the road in front of him! Fortunately he stopped in good time.  So too did they stop.  Marlon moved off again…and they ran in front of him again!  I led us from there at a careful pace, generally at about 70kph, waiting for more kangaroos or cattle to come bounding or dashing from the dusky dim roadside.

South of Broadford and then Wandong, on the old Hume Road, I was leading and rounded a corner at highway speed. It was night now, the space beyond my weak headlight a pitch black nothing. Suddenly I met the Prince of Darkness – my headlight shutdown! That phrase is a descriptive title motorcyclists have given to the electrical systems on old Italian and British motorcycles. Marlon was still coming, I had no light from him as yet, and any moment he would round the corner and I feared he would not see me and rear-end me! I couldn’t see anything. I, as quickly and I gingerly could, made for the side of the road, hoping not to overstep it and lose control into a ditch. All was well, Marlon pulled up, and I proceeded to open my home-made tool-kit (read: ‘actually useful’ toolkit) and diagnose the problem. It was black night in the middle of nowhere, however I had a wind-up torch. I began cutting and seeking to hotwire circuits, guessing that the switch was at fault.

We couldn’t solve the problem, so we decided to head back to Wandong. Marlon led in the right tyre track and I hugged behind in the left. Wandong soon appeared and we pulled into a service station, a marvellous beacon of blazing lights announcing civilisation and rescue from the abyss of the medieval countryside. After inspecting a few parts and trying a different hot-wiring combination I got the headlight working on low beam and we rode home, arriving in Melbourne 12 hours after we had left.

I am well-pleased with the new engine. I am confident the SR can again become my main motorcycle and touring bike and feature now in this Blog.

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