Back home after my sometimes challenging but enjoyable motorcycle tour. The weather and a lack of cold or wet weather experience on my part tested me on a few occasions however I overcame a number of difficulties to complete the trip and am very glad I gave it a go.
This is a report on the ride, the road reviews will follow, but I have included a preview slideshow of some of the roads ridden at the bottom of this post.
Click any of the photos to see a larger version
Day One Brisbane to Kempsey.
Motorbike roads - Mt Lindsey, Summerland way, Nymbodia, Waterfall way.
Things started out nice and warm, here in Brisbane it was 30 degrees and I nearly didnt take much winter gear but fortunately I took the essentials as I had overlooked that the southern states have very different weather to us here in the tropics.
Took awhile to get out of the city being a week day, then I went over Mt Lindsey and Summerland way and down the other sie in the farm belt I realised another thing that being Spring bugs were going to be out in force with the fields in bloom.
My first challenge came early when I encountered a hail storm after lunch south of Grafton at Nymboida and had to hide myself and motorbike in a rural bus shelter. It was a wild storm but passed quickly enough to allow me to suit up with my wet weather gear and ride on. A miserable ride over the range, I was cursing that I hadn't managed to ride it before the rain as its a superb bit of road but naturally in the rain and with the summit in cloud and cold it was no fun.
I had some luck as the rain or hail somehow dislodged my headlight lense (front of motorbike was sticking out but otherwise undamaged ) I stopped after the Nymboida range to take a photo of low lying clouds in the valley and a guy pulls up on a Suzuki SV1000 who had a misfire from wet plug leads, so while there he noticed my headlight fogged up (which was odd) I then saw the headlight glass loose and ready to fall out which would have killed the whole trip on day one! Very fortunate discovery and also the other rider had some cable ties that I used until next day when I glued the lense back in. Wild storms lashed the whole area that afternoon (and worse the next day). Another storm chased me all the way down the Waterfall way road to the coast. Each time I would stop within minutes the rain would start so I kept moving to stay in front of it.
Click to watch hail storm
Day two Kempsey to Cessnock
Motorbike roads - The Oxley H-way, Thunderbolts way, Buckkets way, Bulahdelah, Devils Hills.
I experienced some great riding in fine weather over the Oxley highway and visited the Aspley falls before Walcha. Then onto Thunderbolts way which I was one of the best rides of the trip then a zig zag back over to the coast on the sweepers of the Buckkets way then down the fabulous old highway at Bulahdelah and back over to Thunderbolts across the Devils Hills to Booral. After running late the previous day I was sure I would have plenty of time this day to sight see at will however I again was late arriving the motel. I has set what I thought was a easy kilometre target each day but this was already proving to take more time than I had calculated.
Day 3 Cessnock to Tumut
Bike roads - Putty road, Bells line of roads, Lachlan Valley.
The next day the temperature plunged. On the Putty road I had to stop a few times and add more clothes until I was wearing all my gear and still it was cold. I had seen a number of motorbike groups the previous days however today there was simply hundreds of motorbikes on this road and I began to get an idea of how many people ride down to the GP. At the half way roadhouse there was 30 or more motorbikes stopped all QLD plates and a continual flow of motorbikes going past.
Riding over the Bells line of roads it got misty and the cold was such I had to stop try warm up - which in turn gave me time to enjoy the wonderful views.
Day 4 Tumut to Bainsdale
Motorbike roads - Snowy Mountains h-way, Tooma Rd, Murray Valley h-way, Tawonga gap, Great Alpine Road.
Up early and onto the Snowy Mountains highway and good thing I purchased the thermals as the temperature was crisp and cold. Now I am seriously wondering why the Snowy Mtns h-way is not listed in the Australian top 100 rides atlas. A truly superb road, well surfaced, good surveying, wonderful curves - its what I expected the overrated Alpine way to be when I last road this area.
I rode over to Corryong and taking the wrong route via Tooma (which turned out to be a blessing as I then skipped the Alpine way on the return to ride back via Cabramurra) this turned out to be a great ride, very scenic. It was about now that I first encountered a large group of riders from Sydney which I would bump into all the way to Bairnsdale. Nice enough guys but a few were riding dangerously and I would move ahead of them due to my stopping less but not traveling at warp speed only to have them roar past me on wrong side of road on blind corners to all pull up to rest (riding sportsbikes) while I rode past them again. This happened at least 4 times and it got to the point where in the end I got a bit pissed off with them.
Murray Valley highway, Tawonga gap and the Great Alpine road, really superb riding roads which I shall talk more about separately later. A little rain to end the day but nothing more than a brief shower and by the time I got my wet weather gear on and sat at roadwork stop for 30 minutes the rain had cleared.
Tawonga Gap, Hotham (yes I was not kidding when I said it was freezing cold) and Tambo river near Bairnsdale
Day 5 Bairnsdale to Melbourne
Motorbike roads - Gippsland h-way
I was going to visit Phillip Island today and take in a few sights and return for the GP. I wasnt staying on the island much to many peoples surprise as I wanted to experience Melbourne itself.
On Friday leaving Bairnsdale I was upbeat about making it at least the island without rain as seemed to look like one of those Brisbane days that are overcast but don't yield rain, how very wrong that was. Leaving Sale towards Yarram I knew I was in for it - black wild storm clouds and almost like night it was so dark then down it came. I got lashed by a massive storm with high winds and freezing cold rain. I struggled on to Yarram by which time my hands were numb my nose was running non stop and I was shaking with the cold. My thanks to the attendant at the Mobil for letting me place my motorbike under cover and some words of encouragement. You know its cold when the locals are wearing beanies indoors and their breath is steam, now add rain and riding a motorcycle and being wet in places... after changing some clothes and rearranging some stuff I went to the nearby heated Coffee Palace cafe with lots of other riders trying to warm up. In hindsight I should have stopped and taken cover in one of the rural bus shelters like I did in Nymbodia and let the storm pass. It was a tough test that nearly got the better of me. I crept on at a slow pace, I stopped a few more times and spent another hour or so in a diner trying to warm up. I didnt make it to the island as it was miserable weather and all I wanted to do was get to my motel. A beautiful area and nice roads but the weather was too miserable to do any sightseeing or photo taking.
I liked Melbourne alot. I am not talking about the suburbs - these are the same the country over - but the city heart was wonderful. Very sophisticated and reminds me of European and Asian cities that have a real dynamic and living feel to them. Brisbane after business hours is a ghost town and very few places to get a meal or coffee. Melbourne was great, so many cafes and coffee shops and interesting alleyways. Wide footpaths and very grand facades on wide streets - a wonderful city heart. The riverside was nice as well and I generally liked the it all except for that ghastly federation square.
Race day and I went prepared for the worst weather but it turned out fine, in fact I ended up getting sunburned. It was great to hear the MotoGP bikes and see their real speed as well. A sea of motorbikes this photo just one of a few parking spots. There was so many people (claimed to be 150,000 on tv?) that it was perhaps more than the track was set up for, but anyway an interesting experience. I walked the whole track and liked the end of the main straight best where you could see and hear the bikes at 300kph+ - amazing! It was a very blokey type of crowd with alot of bearded men in HSV jackets smoking and drinking Jim Beam ... well seemed that way in some parts of the track and certainly many were there to drink as much as watch the race. I on the other hand would have benefited from having spent more to get a grandstand seat on the main straight perhaps as that would have given me the chance to observe the pits and all the stuff that I would have found interesting.
Week 2, Day 1. Dandenong to Ballarat via Sorrento and the GOR.
Motorbike roads - Great Ocean road, GOR to Colac.
I headed off to the Great Ocean Road. The weather again turned cool and when I arrived at the Sorrento Ferry the number of other motorbikes there meant I missed my 9.00am ferry and had to wait an hour. This was to have a dire effect later in the day.
The GOR is a wonderful ride. I disagree with those who say it is over rated - popular with grey nomad campervans and too many low speed limit areas yes, but the road itself is amazing. I was leaving the ocean part of the GOR and moving into the Olway national park mountains area (which is magic riding) when I realised I was way behind schedule thanks to the 100's of motorbikes that made me miss the ferry and that clogged the roads and meant simply getting fuel was a long queue. Frustration set in a bit also as by now I was sick of all the bikes everywhere I went. Pull up for a coffee or lunch and you have a long wait, go to get a ice coffee from fridge and its empty, get slowed by or hassled to go faster from behind by bikes. So I made a big mistake of trying to make up some time and got a speeding ticket...
I pulled out to pass a car and then gathered extra speed as I rolled down a sweeping downhill section right into a radar trap. I felt stupid as there was alot of police presence already on this road and I had been careful to keep the pace moderate on the obvious high risk areas. On the other hand I had enjoyed a fair bit of spirited riding and the officers gave me a ticket for the speed at the top of the hill when I passed the car not the bottom which would have seen me walking. Oh well thats life, if you use the roads then chances are you will get a ticket at some time or another.
I went on to the 12 Apostles and ran out of time to do more then this which was a pity as superb twisty roads and magnificent scenery. I was still a bit angry at myself over the ticket so I didnt take as many photos of the mountain roads around this area but some excellent riding to be had between Lavers Hill and Princetown. The section from Lavers Hill to Colac was average by comparison.
Week 2 day 2. Ballarat to Bright.
Motorbike roads - Euroa to Merton, Mansfield to Whitfield.
Next day and OMG its freezing cold and drizzling rain in Ballarat. Crazy as last night it was warm balmy night where I was in a T-shirt and hot walking back from a pub to the motel. Today it was really miserable conditions so I made my way slowly north east to Seymour and fortunately the rain cleared soon out of town but the cold remained. Skip the old h-way ride from Seymour suggested in the top 100 rides atlas - its a bit average. The Euroa to Merton top 100 atlas suggested ride has a few curves but I'd be tempted to simply try the Goulburn Valley and Maroondah h-way next time, however Mansfield to Whitfield - now this is something quite special indeed.
An absolutely cracker of a road that has a bit of everything - one of the highlights of all the suggested motorbike roads on the tour. Today I am running ahead of time - for the first time on the whole trip so I try to get a new rear tyre at Mansfield but they only have a touring compound but at Wangaratta I find a bike shop with a Michelin Pilot so I go with that than rather than wait until Sydney even though I didnt want a full sports tyre -but it proved to be a good choice.
Mansfield - the corners go on and on (click to see larger photo and look)
Week 2 day 3. Bright to Cooma.
Motorbike roads - Tawonga gap, Redbank rd, Murray River road, Corryong to Cabramurra, Snowy Mountains h-way.
This was to be my 2nd high country riding day and I had planned to revisit some of the graet Alpine road however its 2 degrees in Bright so I elect to skip Mt Buffalo or other spots I had considered as I am simply so sick of being cold. I enjoy the Tawonga Gap more this time without hordes of other motorbikes to spoil things and then I managed to find the Redbank road (listed in the top 100 rides atlas) which I missed on the way down first time but its average and in fact the excellent surfaced main road from Wodonga has nicer curves and as good scenery.
The Murray River road is however a true gem and another highlight of my tour. I remember this road from when I was young and I am glad to say it remains the same superb old school road with lots of sweeping curves. This road reminds me of all the old roads I recall traveling on with my parents when I was a lad - now sadly most of those roads have been straightened, widened and routed to bypass all towns and are barren lacking trees and anything of interest whatsoever.
At Corryong I decide I have to jetwash the Brutale. By now there are so many dead bugs on the leading edges and front of bike that a swarm of flys descend onto it anytime I stop and its disgusting. While here also I elect to skip the Alpine way for two reasons, 1 there is alot of snow visible on top and I am sick of the cold and 2 its a rather average road that is overrated so I take a bet the that other half of the Snowy Mtns h-way that gets no mention in the top rides atlas will be as good as the first half was. I manage then to find my way to Cabramurra via the Tumut Pond dam the route. This is the route I wanted to come down on and is a better ride than I imagined with good road surface all the way and better surveying. Then down to Cooma on the Snowy Mtns h-way that does indeed turn out to be excellent riding for a early finish in Cooma to warm up.
Above. View to the Snowy mtns that convinced me to skip Alpine way, Snowy Hydro dam, Cabramurra - Australia's highest town.
Week 2, day 4. Cooma to Sydney
Motorbike roads - Clyde Mountain, Kangaroo Valley.
Next day I decide to alter my route again. Since I had allready seen Brown Mtn on the way to Bega I elected to ride north to Canberra and down Clyde Mtn on the Kings h-way. Not sure if this was a good choice or not as it was cold as hell all the way to Canberra where I simply got lost and didnt stay long before more cold until I got down to the sea at Batemans bay. Clyde mtn is a fantastic ride but if I was going to Cooma then the coast road and Brown Mtn is a far better route on a motorbike.
Kangaroo Valley was very nice this afternoon and I again ran out of time. I really wanted to stay longer in the area but at least I got to a couple of the lookouts, the last time here I rode straight past the amazing spots in the photos below with a mate. I got into Sydney late and thus it was wise that I got the tyre when I did as my original plan had been to obtain same this afternoon instead.
Looking towards ocean from top of climb into Kangaroo Valley, and Fitzroy falls top of next climb out of the valley.
Week 2, Day 6. Sydney to Armidale.
Motorbike roads - Wisemans Ferry, Wollombi road, Dungog, Thunderbolts way.
Heading towards home on the 2nd last day the weather again turned cool. The Hawkesbury region was a bit of a let down both the roads and the scenery not quite as as I had imagined. Very bumpy roads and thats saying something as I am used to rough roads. Alot of bikes on the Wollombi road from Sydney which is better sealed than the Wisemans Ferry area and has a few nice curves.
I cut over from Maitland to Stroud Road via Dungog and made a great find. The road via Paterson is nice in itself, well surfaced and with a number of curves which makes it better than the bumpy tail end of the Buckkets Way but then in Dungog I found alot of motorbikes and thought ahm what goes here. Then I find road beyond Dungog to the Stroud Road is a superb bit of riding - beatifully surveyed and near new surface in parts.Back on to the Thunderbolts way and from Gloucster to Nowendoc is some of the best riding in the country. The resurveyed new river section is near to perfect.
Week 2 Day 7. Armidale to Brisbane.
Motorbike roads - Gwydir h-way, Summerland way, Mt Lindsey.
Last day and I deliberately set this as a easy shorter day as I figured I would be tired by now.
Its still cool this morning and I don't feel warm enough to switch back to summer gloves or remove my scarf until I get back to Northern Rivers shire. I ride down the wonderful Gwydir h-way a road I have never ridden before simply as there is so many other nearby great roads but now I know why people ride this going south as it's a top bit of road - however via Ebor to Armidale over the Nymbodia range is better still. Spoiled for choice in this area.
This however could be related to the sort of bike I am riding. The MV Agusta simply won't cut a tight corner like the Buell did, its more like my old Speed Triple which also was more fun on the less tight corners. Oddly the Buell XB would be almost boring on sweepers, not sure if this was from its ease of lean or the twins breathlessness on the more open roads that perhaps kept the pace below ideal on those open roads. Very hard now to say what is the best sort of bike to own and where you should place the focus...?
Some people have already asked me would I do the trip it again - you bet. I would perhaps not tour at the same time of year though for a few reasons. Some people would like all the other bikers around but I found it too much. Normally you are few and far between and when you see another rider you mostly wave or chat if stopped but in this case there were so many that it all became a negative a couple of times.
The temperature and bug level at this time of year makes me think that early Autumn would be better with perhaps less bugs and less chance of huge drops in temperature. Additionally I would make the schedule more flexible and allow more time and not venture near the capital cities at all. Quite a number of other things I learned about touring by motorcycle of course.
So in the end it was with some reflection I rode back over Mt Lindsey, and then the final run home. 6300km in total. Glad I made the effort to get out there.