Monday, November 22, 2010

SR500 Club Rally 2010

The best bits of this Rally were not photographed. I apologise, but I was in motion at the time. And it was too good to stop.

The title of the Rally is self-explanatory: the annual Rally for members of the Yamaha SR500 Club, attended also by those unwashed madmen who work their way up and down the eastern side of our continent, attending motorcycle rallies every weekend while their shipping-container-for-a-house sits idle in a bush block somewhere. You can read about last year's event here.

I left after lunch. The air was warm and flowed over me in all the colours of sun and sky. It was to be a perfect Spring the entire three days.

East of Yarra Glen I came round a corner at 100kph to find a flock of cockies in my path. They scattered except for one, who stood stubbornly and then attempted to walk casually out of my path.  This all happened very quickly.  He must have spread his wings in a final moment of panic, and my boot shattered one of them. I stopped and rode back, and there he was rolling about with a smashed wing, trying to stand up and get off the road. I quickly parked my bike, which took a moment - it was heavy with luggage.  A truck passed by and when I looked up the cocky was flat.

I curved through the Black Spur at speed overtaking cars like a '50s dare-devil bikey, my exhaust a thrilling drum roll. And so I made for Mansfield.

The road between Mansfield and Whitfield is one of the best in the state. I took it easy, waltzing from side to side through the turns: a baby in a rocker, a gentleman of motorcycling.

The roads all the way to Albury-Wodonga, where I arrived just on dark, were fantastic. I was tempted to become annoyed with myself for leaving Melbourne so late and thus missing a sunlit scramble along this tar, but I have an ideology about riding: I always choose the ride. That is, whatever is happening now on the ride, I assent to it, adopt it as my preference. And so, if I had to repeat this ride over and over, in some strange eternal return, I will that I would repeat this moment again, and discover the value in it. And indeed it had its own pleasures. The strong smell of cut grass on a warm dusk evening in Spring, as you weave amidst the paddocks, is very special.

I rode through the hills to Bethanga in the dark, looking constantly over the weir where the full moon sparkled on the water.

I decided to explore a road that loops from Bethanga, north along the Murray River to Corryong, then south back to Bethanga. On the northern side it follows the edge of the great weir.

This was one of the best roads I have ever ridden. It was the 19th century explorer Charles Sturt who dreamed of an inland sea. It was I who rode a motorcycle along it.

My fellow club member and friend Axel and I made this ride together, our pace matched, through a road that twisted and swept just meters from the water's edge, sometimes at its level, sometimes on a cliff. And the sea itself was perfectly calm, the lack of salt-smell uncanny. Out in the water white cockies sat on dead gums, reflecting the sun. I thought of T.E.Lawrence, the true gentleman of motorcycling, and envisioned a Bristol bi-plane racing me, low and out over the water. It is amazing that the world can afford such freedom and pleasure.

I took no pictures of this road though I travelled it twice. I simply could not stop, I was too happy in my motion.

Where there was not the sea, or the fast river, there would be a valley of lagoons spread out before us, green like everything else between here and Melbourne, but framed by ancient hills of granite.

While I was taking the last photo a car pulled in behind me driven by a conservative-looking lady in her fifties who seemed intent on getting our attention. I wondered what could be wrong. She asked to where we were heading, then warned us that the police were there pulling motorcyclists over. I thanked her, and it's good to see that not everybody makes silly assumptions about motorcyclists. But of course some "concerned citizens" do indeed make them, and the police were indeed in town and came over to us as we sat for lunch, asking how we were enjoying Bethanga. We were 100kph from Bethanga. The question had an implication. That town, which is itself a nothing - a pub and general store - yet sported a constant patrol car, day and night...the most policed small town in Australia. The police were all friendly, but it was the eager sort of friendliness which said, Note that I am here. And again, as you came around a corner, a wave which said "And here also!" I found it rather comical. Our bikes are the latest in low-powered, old-fashioned farm machinery.  The rally is a family event.  A bunch of nice bogans who like old bikes.  

We arrived back at the Rally just in time to park our bikes for the 'show and shine' display.

The best of all, in my mind: a stock SR400

Stock 78 SR500

Trick XT500, the model on which the SR500 was based.

About one-third of the line

One of the most long-distance, most adventurous SRs around (see).

A nice sidecar set-up, from a Bethanga local.

Phil Duffy's famous girlfriend Phyllis. Phyllis has LEDs in her eyes, and by virtue of a piece of string can appear to give you the finger. Police sometimes pull Phil over because his passenger has no helmet. Once, roaring past a truck, Phyllis' head fell off and rolled. But she always brings home the shopping.

Afterwards I spied an example of commitment to the club

The evening was spent in Rally games, conversation and beer. I made some friends, including a drunk and fun Tasmanian, though I spent much of the evening being talked at by men who assumed I had a fascination with the minutiae of their life, anecdotes from which they repeated multiple times. Or who argued with each other over what year some such engine went in this or that car. And so I drunk more beer. And appreciated, despite the varying quality of conversation, the general friendliness about. You could go up to many people and have a chat.

With little sleep both nights, I decided on a long day of riding: I chose the same route back to home.

I left with my friend Mike and we rode together until we split at Milawa, him to the Hume, me to Whitfield and down.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Taking the Acheron Way

Thursday was just an ordinary day, but heavy with the knowledge that summer is coming. I could see it, by the gilt of the clouds reflected on my chrome headlight, forever ahead of me even as the miles dropped away. Like a vision of the future.

Out of the terrors of 3am I dragged myself at midday. Out of the clamour of the city I rode it all away.

Christmas Hills, Chum Creek and Myers Creek Roads, The Black Spur.

And then...

Sunlight and green, shadows and ash, water murmur and the constant hum of insect life as they sat suspended mid-air, in their colonies of light as I passed through The Acheron Way.

This narrow strip of tar winds a constant S through the flat forest floor of a dry rainforest, a mixture of great ferns and giant trees.

And then the dirt.

And more dirt. A constant weave of thick gravel, corner after corner, sliding the rear wheel to turn. Up one side of a mountain.

Over a Spur.

Then down the other. Still dwarfed by the green.

By day's end the bike was singing, dashing skyward up hills amidst the paddocks. A staccato blessing on the world.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


It seems strange that Damien has not featured in this blog, for we have done so much riding together in the past. It was thanks to Damien, years ago, that I switched from motorcycling as a mere form of transport, and into a country-riding motorcycle enthusiast. In turn I did Damien the favour of meeting him once, at an earlier date, and spending the evening in conversation about motorcycles. He had stopped riding since leaving Perth and selling his Ducati. Our conversation re-lit the fire in him and he bought another Duc.

We do have some differences, however. I love old bikes. Damien loves high-powered super-sports rocketships. We don't ride together so much as start off together and end together, enjoying our own pace in between. Which is good, because Damien is fast. And competitive.

The last time, however, that we rode together Damien had reason to pull up early, and so I came across him thoughtfully looking out over the ocean, from the heights of The Great Ocean Road. He had been relatively well-behaved that day, cruising at 130kph along that 80kph zone. The police officer sniped about how long it had taken to catch up with him.

Cop: "Do you know what speed you were doing through that town back there?"

Damien: Goes to say, "What town?", but thinks better of it.

The town was a 50kph zone.

After chatting with the police officer Damien lost his license for 15 months. He very recently got it back, but due to the loss of points he must now lose it for 3 months again, starting this Tuesday.

So we went for a ride together today. Me on the SR500. Damien on my Hornet 600. For the first and probably last time ever, I consistently left Damien in the dust.

Damien had forgotten how much he loves riding. He announced at the end of the ride that this had been the best day of his life. When speaking to his newly-appointed wife on the phone he down-graded it to second best day.

Next year you will hopefully see more of Damien. Perhaps in time we'll see all the members of the old gang together: Rosy too, certainly, and Fee talks of getting her SR185 back on the road. I now own Adam's Hornet, but maybe we can talk him into a re-union ride....