Thursday, April 26, 2012

Remembering Rainbow to Ouyen, at night, then day.

It's hard to describe the place motorcycling takes me to.

All night
my motion arouses the dust and leaves
and my headlight dazzles the kangaroos
emerging from the sleep of farm-town edges
illuminated by that same moon
under which stand bronze Anzacs
at ease between the wars.

That moonlight’s a dreamscape
where paddocks, restless with mice
frame silos standing in stillness.

Thundering across the country like a dare-devil
a bike boy of the '50s
tyre marks of scattered dust
in low gear shifting skyward up a hill.

Now the tail-light glows. Only just.
Strung out on the hills like those many others
alive after dusk
and spanning a continent,
it’s many parts nameless, but placed,
the night I rode for Ouyen on little petrol. 

This is red earth country.
It looks empty and open
but is crowded with ghosts.
Those figures are hidden away in the folds of it
invisible here, and there
but letting me know I am watched

At day I stop and look into the blaze of sunlight
and know I am not the only one.
They go on like I do
and my having been here makes a ghost of me too
a moment in time that will always have been
a moment toward which I have always been making.

Spring night
on the road to Ouyen. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Today I repeated the same loop as last week. It was again a simple getting to know you session with the Bullet. However I took a different route home from Healesville, taking Myers Creek Road to King Lake and back into the city. I became more confident, trusting the feel of the engine to tell me what it wants. Perhaps I have become more attuned to it and so sensitive to its needs. But this allowed me to push its parameters also. Riding the Bullet, as I stated last week, is very different to riding a modern motorcycle. The key to riding a Japanese bike is revving. If such a bike is not doing what I want - say maintaining its speed up a hill, or speeding up - I simply rev it harder and it will comply. And on the road the rule of the modern vehicle is that one travels at the speed limit. It is not until I sit on a vintage vehicle like the Bullet that I realise how rushed and "come on! come on!" the modern road has become. On the Bullet if I need to rise a hill, I forget about the speed limit and focus on the gear that will get me up that hill. This might not be the gear for going at the speed limit, and so I accept that regardless of what the posted limit is, this is for me and my machine a 60kph incline and that is the speed I shall do. I am reminded of travelling in my Dad's old truck through hilly Tasmania.
Today was a beautiful green autumn day. Pleasantly warm but never hot. Calm. Blue.
Again the adjective that came to me to describe this motor cycle was "wonderful!" It is a wonderful machine. I sense myself grinning as I ride. It is a joyous machine.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pulling the trigger

Royal Enfield's marketing stated that they were made like a gun. Today I pulled the trigger and went for my first long ride on the Bullet.

I followed a familiar route, up the Eastern Freeway and out to King Lake, then along Chum Creek Road to Healesville, lunch, and back into Melbourne via Yarra Glen.

At Toolangi I stopped for photos.

From King Lake onwards I was familiar enough with the bike in the country to get into a groove. I was able to conclude that I had made the right decision in buying it. It is a wonderful motorcycle!

When ascending hills I tried at times to maintain my speed as I would on a Japanese motorcycle by opening the throttle and revving harder, and the bike instantly fed back a sense of harshly being over-revved. This is a bike that I have to obey. It will ascend the hills in its own sweet time, and slow down while it does so, regardless of who is behind. If there were no historical and nostalgic connection then one might conclude this is a terrible bike. Indeed it has the performance of my old postie bike. But there is no escaping the feeling of being on a 1950s motorcycle. Thump, thump, thump! When the 'zone' of mechanical happiness is respected the engine is fantastic. It thumps in a way that no modern big single does. It lacks some of the nice aspects of a modern big single - that ability to roll up and down very dynamically and forcefully through a broad rev range - but it has the stereotypical 'one thump per lamp post' feeling. And my lack of speed seemed to concern nobody - this bike visibly brings a smile to everybody on foot whom I pass and to everybody in a car who passes me.

The Bullet has such a wonderful feel and look as I ride along that I have to be careful to focus on where I am going and not down at the tank and headlight nacelle. I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have two amazing motorcycles. The Enfield is a very slow bike so I will do the long distances on the W650, but I look forward to long days of back roads just thump, thump, thumping along at a different pace and in, as it were, a different time.

Songs, such as this one today, will continue silently to accompany my ride.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hello Royal Enfield Bullet 500

Tonight I picked up my new bike. As you know, last week over a 24hr period I suddenly decided to sell my SR500 after five years of passionate ownership and a friend shot me the cash, and I began looking around for some British iron. Now, I wanted the Brit bike experience, but it is more important for me to ride than to show off my authentic iron, so something which struck me as a very sensible option was to buy one of the British-designed Indian Royal Enfields for which all parts are easily and cheaply available (madly so!), as are English-made superior after-market critical engine parts.

An Enfield Club member had a 1995 Bullet for sale, an Enfield model which, aside from 12V electrics and indicators, is exactly the 1955 model. He was selling it for the price I got for my SR, so we did the deal.

Here 'tis:

For anybody who doesn't know the wonderful story, in the early 1950s Royal Enfield of England became overwhelmed with orders for their Bullet from India, and so made a deal with Madras Motors to set up a factory in Madras to produce the Bullet. Madras Motors kept on building the 1955 model, even though the English model changed in aspects of its design until its end of production in 1962 (the model had began in 1932), and when Royal Enfield shut shop in 1970 the story continued in India where they just kept making the 1955 model with almost no changes (until they experimented with some alternative models a decade back, and then a few years ago ceased production of the tradition Bullet for a new unit construction engined Bullet), and this applies to me new bike - it is the iron barrel 1955-year model.

Some aspects of the bike: My model has the traditional system with the foot levers back to front and upside down compared to a Japanese bike. That was a bit scary tonight as I rolled off the footpath in between two stationary cars at the lights, with my habitual act of using the foot brake for stopping...but try as I might to punch down, the gear change lever at my right foot did not stop the bike! I managed to avoiding rear-end the car by use of my boots. I have to get used to a British bike.  The brakes are interesting -- you plan ahead. There is no neutral light, but there is a neutral finder lever on which I stomp down (all foot lever work is done in stomps) and it puts the bike in neutral regardless of what gear it was in. If you want to accelerate but you are in too high a gear it doesn't matter - you open the throttle and the bike just pulsates and pulls away, with no chain snatch. It is quite unbelievably balanced and nimble. You just have to be mindful of the rigid footpegs. The headlight gives the beam of a miner's candle. But the kickstarting is quite easy compared to a big Japanese single.

The fellows in the RE club know nothing about the internals of the engine, but another Bulleteer whom I already know, and who has done about 120,000km on his Bullet and who used to be an Enfield mechanic, has ridden it for the last six months and has found it good. At any rate the blokes in the club are very actively engaged in helping fellow members.

Here's my old SR alongside a couple of Bullets:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Goodbye SR, and good luck.

Five years ago I bought a motorcycle which was to become very close to my heart. Here is the first photo of me on it:

My 1978 Yamaha SR500.

The SR has given me so much joy over the years. It is so passion-arousing. It is as though a smith, the son of a god, took a lump of metal and shaped from that meaningless compound a speed machine.

But yesterday a close friend deposited money in my account, and today he came and took my SR away.

Strangely, I was quite unemotional as I watched the bike disappear. I guess it is time. For a good while I have been feeling the urge to go for something more ploddingly vintage and preferably English. Watch this space for something much less reliable, much less easy to live with, but absolutely bathed in romanticism.

In the meantime, it has been a wonderful relationship, oh my SR.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cairn Curran

Riding the motorbike that summer, through the hot yellow grasslands of central Victoria and around the expansive waters of Cairn Curran, wearing only shorts and sandals, crystallised in me a sense of freedom that I possessed earlier, but never so fully, and which I always associate with that time in the country. I felt I could do anything provided I was respectful of others. The law and other kinds of regulations seemed only rules of thumb, regulative ideals, to be interpreted by individuals according to circumstances and constrained by goodwill and commonsense. From my father and from Hora I had already acquired a sense that only morality was absolute because some of its demands were non-negotiable. But I was too young to be troubled by that. I was eleven years old, riding my father's motorbike to collect the mail and visit friends, yet no one was troubled by this breach of the law. It left me with a sad, haunting image of a freedom, impossible now to realise, and which even then the world could barely afford.

Yesterday I rode my motorbike around those same, expansive waters. I was riding there fifty years after one of Cairn Curran's, and the world's, best living philosophers was an eleven year old riding his father's BSA Bantam along those same roads.

Later I wound my way back to Melbourne via constant side-excursions, discovering new single lane roads. These roads took me to the tops of mountains and to the base of great symbols.

Autumn is a wonderful time, but I look forward to winter too, when I shall wrap myself in lambswool and lose myself in grey skies and the smell of wet roads.