Sunday, March 28, 2010

Daylesford n' Dunolly

I spent yesterday wandering for about 450km in the back roads between Daylesford and Dunolly. I didn't follow a map and travelled according to whim.

I left my camera packed away most of the time, though I took a shot of Cairn Curran. High and dry, on the opposite bank, you can see what used to be the Yacht Club's boat ramp.

I say "used to be", because according to Aristotle a thing is defined by its use.  A boat ramp looks rather odd in that place at this point in time, in a drought. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Photos of SR500s

I want to use this post to collect pictures of modified Yamaha SR400 / SR500s that I particularly like.

To start off with the blank canvas, here's my relatively stock 1978 SR500, albeit with bigger handle bars and an after-market tail-light.

A nice backyard job.

A Japanese 'shop build'.

One of my favourite builds, by a professional Japanese shop, Custom House Stinky.

Bonneville-style SR

And for interest's sake, here's a BSA Starfire with an SR500 engine fitted.

And another bike I found on the web, which is very close to what I want my SR to look like.

Friday, March 19, 2010


In the fortnight before he collided with a truck and died, Jim Patts spent his time riding about on his new motorcycle, showing himself and his bike off.

Those early days of 1974 were sticky and humid. Regardless, Jim wore his leather jacket, keeping it open at the chest so the breeze would cool him and show his muscles. The older man at the pub, who insisted on selling the jacket to him for his “safety”, had bought it off a “Yank. In Sydney. Just after the War.” Jim practiced wearing it in front of his wardrobe mirror, along with blue jeans and black army boots.

The motorcycle was a 1965 450cc Honda. Which is to say, it was a big bike. It made Jim feel respected. With the clothes, while riding or standing beside his bike, he felt he became someone. But it wasn't that he simply posed. It was not mere appearances, for the appearance was based on reality: on what it felt like to ride a bike and, by throwing all his passion and identity into that, on what it meant, the feeling and meaning tied up in one.

On the day Jim collided with the truck, he had ridden a winding road through sand dunes by the coast, one of many near his town. He woke that morning from a bad sleep. The bike was bought with the tiny inheritance his mother left after dying three months before. Jim woke twice in the night thinking out of habit that she was still in the next room. The shock was as usual slight but painful when he realised his mistake. Then he woke again, agitated, afraid of her presence, and of his father's - afraid of the presence of the dead. Because of the Death they brought with them? He felt guilty. The same kind of guilt as when he found he couldn't touch his mother's cold body. He didn’t understand that it wasn’t fear, or a betrayal, of his mother, so much as horror at the thing that had overtaken her. And was that just death, or something more? Some kind of loss more absolute than death? What could that be? He had been brooding lately: what was the use of all Mum’s suffering? Six months before the end she had escaped the old man and his twenty years of punches and insults. Just as Jim felt his shoulders straighten and his hands become strong – no more helpless watching - cancer left the old man too weak to hurt her. Then killed him. Jim had thought she could live some kind of life after that, and now he wondered: what was the use of it all? He was determined at least that he would live, despite the fear that he, too, was doomed. As dawn emerged he was dressed and ready to ride.

Years ago Jim's father shot an old dog Jim had adopted, because it was “useless”. “Working dogs are useful; that shit’s good for nothing!” The action and its words seemed like a warning to Jim from the world. Other men and their sons said the same with their eyes and their tone of voice when they questioned him, as though demanding that he justify himself. Recently at the pub he replied proudly: “I ride! That's what I do!” The others snorted, “What's the use of that?” and “What's that any good for?”

Jim was in motion now, through grassy dunes on a sealed road. The first corner was strewn with gravel. He braked clumsily at the apex and dropped a gear, moving off again with a wobble. The next corner felt graceful by comparison, and this improved corner after sweeping corner. Jim realised that if he dropped his elbow and pushed the handlebars in his direction of travel, while being smooth with the throttle, he could glide through corners with effortless speed. In harmony with them. It seemed like a miracle, a little frightening, that the bike should lean, not fall, and everything should hold together. These last few days he had become good at this. But it was not the sort of goodness that serves a use. What Jim knew at this moment was not a thought but a direct experience: the gloom had gone, and in the stream of motion he felt connected with something absolutely real. Grace? Beauty? Jim didn't have those words but he felt the reality. If he was the sort to reflect on such things, he might have added that it was a reality which mere usefulness could never approach. This was real living, with no purpose served, no justification needed. Even death, which could end it, could not erase the fact that this reality had been manifest in this moment. Real living had happened.

A broad feeling, not yet translated into words, had come over Jim.  It was a reply to all those men and to the world in all its hardness. In the moment before Jim Patts collided with a truck and died, he became utterly useless.

Eildon on the Hornet

The last time I parked by the shore of Lake Eildon, in its national park, I was riding the GR650. I thought of that bike a lot today: I miss its torquey thump - I miss single and twin cylinder bikes. This didn't stop me appreciating, however, the dreamy smooth hum of the Hornet. It had been running terribly during the week: one piston was not firing. It turned out later to be a very worn, old spark plug.

So I rode out east, against my preference, hoping that if I broke down my father-in-law might come rescue me with his trailer. This was unnecessary, but it lead me to meander along the dirt in Cathedral Range State Park, and to scour the back roads in Eildon National Park. My return trip involved heavy rain all the way along the famously twisty Black Spur, where the bike held her ground confidently. It was quite simply a pleasant day.

Here, between Thornton and Eildon, the cows were bathing.

Over-looking Lake Eildon.

Down by its shore.

Where there was art, if you had eyes to notice.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Life has been stressful for months now, at a sustained high level which becomes harder to manage the longer it wears me down. Fortunately it’s situational, and Fee and I simply have to weather the storm. I watched a documentary last week in which a Vietnam Veteran said, "If I didn't ride bikes, I'd have blown my head off by now." I took that man's words as advice and, hail or shine, on the first day I had free I spread my wings. North on the Hume to Wandong, then Broadford to Yea, lunch, then north via Highlands into the country I love. And this time I was determined to return to meandering on farm roads, where I best experience quietude and peace. This sort of riding has become my favourite: cruising along at 40kph, nervous about the surface of the dirt road here and there, but at peace with the world because I'm in motion in a beautiful place.

There were animals about: echidnas, wombats. This fellow met his end on the sealed road by the Goulburn River bridge.

Near Caveat I took on a new dirt road.

I did laps of my favourite sealed routes, exiting and later entering them via dirt roads, ending up at Longwood where I had coffee at the pub. As a train rolled past I thought about jumping aboard and fundamentally changing my life, following the way of the hobo. Instead I sat absorbing the quiet warmth, renewed by my soul-washing motorcycling. Nothing makes me feel the way that I feel when in motion on a motorcycle in a quiet, beautiful place.

I finished the day by riding from Yea to Whittlesea then, leaving my map unchecked, I ranged across unknown small roads north of Melbourne, eventually reaching Eltham and the fast route to home.