Thursday, March 22, 2012

You can't predict everything

One of the phrases that gets thrown around in riders' forums is "All The Gear, All The Time."  I always subscribed to this philosophy because I could never predict when I would hit a patch of diesel on the road and go for a slide.

Another Melbourne rider, Blue Smith, had an equally unpleasant but even more unexpected incident recently which he's kindly agreed to share so we can learn from his experience - thanks Blue.
Hi guy's, just wanted to have a bit of a yarn about the events leading to the demise of my beloved Firestorm yesterday... This accident wasn't the result of stupidity or the actions of another road user, it was a freak accident...!!! I pride myself in my ability to cope with those moments of fear we all encounter on the roads, usually when pushing our limits to some extent... I've always been able to keep a level head until I could find somewhere safe to pull over, have a mini melt down then get on with my day...

A bee flying through my partially opened visor yesterday was something I never expected - I had a KBC IS16 with the internal sun visor, the bee hit my top lip before bouncing back against the visor and then angrily trying to get out and ending up slamming back and forward between the visor and sun visor... I was nearing the apex as this happened and it was enough to totally ruin my control over the bike - the result being a trip over the side of the Lake Mountain Road and a very lucky escape with only a few cracked ribs and a lot of internal bruising...

Be careful out there guys and gals, it can be the things you least expect that bring you undone :-)
Apart from the obvious "Always wear your protective gear coz you never know when you might come off", all I can get out of this is to ride with the visor closed whenever possible!  Which I guess means getting on personal terms with some of the anti-fog solutions for your chosen helmet's visor, because up until I read Blue's tale I have habitually ridden with my visor open a crack to prevent fogging up.

Thanks for sharing Blue, all the best for a speedy recovery.

Plan B

Not so long, not so demanding, not so far from home, but some fantastic looking roads I haven't done before, and some fantastic roads that I have.  6 hours in the saddle should be about right for Andrew's first full day ride I'd reckon, and leaves enough in reserve for Ali and I to get home again at the end of the day.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Starting to plan...

Well, ANZAC day is coming up, the last public holiday before winter, and probably the last roll of the dice on a nice big trip on the bike before cup day rolls around, so it's time for me to put my thinking cap on.

This time there is the added possibility of luring my other brother Andrew out for the trip as well, which would be an awesome bonus!  He hasn't got his bike yet (or his license, but let's not get bogged down in details) so we will need to wait and see whether that aspect pans out... but I'm hopeful that it will come together and it's enjoyable thinking through planning a trip keeping in mind frequent breaks and keeping the miles traveled to a reasonable limit.

So far, this is what I've come up with: an overnight in Bairnsdale on the Tuesday night, followed by this for the Wednesday:

There's lots of potential to lengthen the ride once we hit Myrtleford; cut down through Whitfield and Mansfield and run west via Mansfield and Strath Creek, but we need to remember that Ali and I will have to get home at the end of this and that's another hour and a bit from once we say goodbye to Andrew!

Still this is only the first draft of a plan - one of the great things about living in Victoria is that there are so many good roads to explore that if this route turns out to not be possible there are plenty of alternatives that we can look at.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ABCs of motorcycle safety

A - Always wear all the gear 
B - Basic skills save lives - practice your braking and counter-steering 
C - Crap! - learn to control your panic responses - target fixation especially 
D - Dickhead, don't be one - be predictable in how you ride 
E - Everyone is a dickhead sometimes - assume they haven't seen you 
F - Failed - assume that the vehicle in front of you's brake lights have failed until you see them working. Do not assume that their brake lights will come on to warn you that they are slowing down

Two Wheel Thrive: a retrospective

I started this blog when I decided to get a motorcycle, just over 3 years ago.  I kept it fairly religiously for about a month, maybe 6 weeks, then as riding the bike became a bit more routine it seems I ran out of things to say about it until I revived it after this last overnight trip away.  The three years of silence are a bit of a shame actually, since quite a lot went on, some of which might have been worth sharing in a forum such as this... so I thought I'd do a quick recap of the last three years of riding.

Bike #1: 2008 Suzuki GS 500
(Feb 2009 - Apr 2010; Odometer - 17,000km approx)

The Suzuki was a fantastic learner bike for me.  LAMS approved for learner goodness, but with enough capacity to still be able to accelerate out of danger when someone decides to merge into me on the freeway.  It scored a couple of upgrades along the way: a top box was added to the rear to replace the oh-so-stylish sports bag held on with a net; heated hand grips to keep my circulation working in the middle of winter.  It also scored a downgrade, falling off its side stand once and cracking that screen right off.

Lessons learned on this bike: oggy knobs are worth it; if you park the bike pointing downhill, keeping the engine in gear will stop the bike from rolling off the sidestand and falling over... until you put it into neutral to warm up the engine; naked bikes have less stuff to break when they do fall over; don't underestimate the value of a centre stand - you won't miss it till its gone!

Travelled 17,000 Kms in 15 months, with an average fuel consumption of about 5 litres per 100 Ks.

Bike #2: 2009 Kawasaki Z750
(Apr 2010 - Mar 2011; Odometer - 17,500km approx)

I loved my Z, I really really did.  She was a terrific upgrade from the GS, providing me enough umph to scare myself silly without actually being a stupidly powerful bike.  I love the iridescent green, the angry grasshopper styling, the black radiator cowling and the nice upright riding position.  Once again the wisdom of a naked bike lacking expensive fairings was proven when I stopped the bike to look at a used car, and tried to get off without putting down the side stand.  Oggy knobs for the win.

Not many upgrades for this one, just mirror extenders so I could keen an eye on what was behind me without having to cock my elbow up and look through the gap between arm and torso.  I didn't really appreciate how lithe and agile this bike actually is until I replaced it, but it was a fantastic little bike.

It has to be said though, the Z750 has two things working against it in my books: it had all the weight of a 1000cc engine with only the capacity of a 750 (they sleeved down the cylinders in the Z so in fact there is more metal in a Z750 engine than in the 1000cc engine they based it on) and the lack of ABS.  It was the desire for ABS that led me to upgrade off this bike, having locked up the back wheel while travelling downhill through Toolangi.  It was one of the few "oh serious shit" moments I've had while riding - knowing that I was approaching the corner too hot, trying to brake off some speed, and finding the rear wheel sliding sideways - but it made enough of an impression for me to upgrade.

Bike #3: 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 (Z1000SX)
(Apr 2010 - present; Odometer - 12,500km and counting)

I was never a fan of faired bikes - I didn't think that they would be comfortable to sit on in that silly bent over racing tuck.  But when I heard that Kawasaki were planning this bike in early 2011 I started looking into it, and I was hooked.  I love the looks of this bike - I think it is aggressive and stylish and awesome all rolled into one.  I love the posture on this bike - it truly is a naked bike with fairings on, but if anything it is more comfortable than the naked Z1000 because they have marketed it as a sports-tourer, so the riding position is very upright and relaxed.

I love the power of this bike.  I seldom get a chance to really crank it up since it will do 100 in first if I choose to, but it has awesome (literally awe inspiring) torque and can pull away in any gear from pretty much any speed.  I haven't tried taking off in 6th from a dead stop but I reckon that with enough revs and slipping the clutch a little she'd probably manage it alright.

It has to be said that I found the stock exhausts (not pictured) to be a bit less than beautiful, indeed I reckon they detract from the smooth lines of the bike and are much better suited to the angular Z1000 from which they come.  These aftermarket Arrows look and sound a whole lot better than the stock pipes, and I'm told they allow the engine to breathe a bit better in the lower revs, which I can well believe just looking at the difference in the diameter of the pipes themselves.

Let's be honest, she is a thirsty beast.  In round town commuting I get about 7.5L/100km which is about the same as we get out of our Peugeot 308 station wagon... not a great advertisement for the improved fuel efficiency of bikes over cars!  But when I take her out touring that drops to about 5.5L/100km without any deterioration in the fun factor, in fact I find those fuel figures astonishing given the spirited and enthusiastic riding that Ali and I did while we were away.

I haven't pimped her up much... yet.  Apart from the new pipes the only thing I've added to her is a radiator guard.  Not even the much praised Oggy Knobs have made it onto this bike, though they have been ordered and should arrive and be fitted in the next couple of weeks.  By the way, if you're looking to dress up your bike I recommend going to where you can see what accessories they have that will fit your baby.  In addition to engine covers and a gloss black screen, there are a few luggage accessories I'd dearly love to add to her to lessen my reliance upon the tank bag for longer trips... of course if I'm going camping the tank bag is going to be essential, but I'll do a post on my bike-worthy camping gear another day, and then you'll see why.

So that's the story of the last 3 years: 3 bikes, no accidents, 45,000km and an ever increasing love affair with time spent in the saddle.  As an introvert, time spent alone inside my helmet is an invaluable thing, and when all your concentration is required to pilot 123 BHP of bike from corner to corner to corner, there's no room left in the head for the daily worries, doubts and self-recriminations with which many introverts have to deal.  In the terms of the psychology of happiness and fulfilment, riding allows me to experience "flow," where I get into the zone and all my concentration and awareness is distilled into each and every moment.  And that's about the biggest endorsement I could possibly give of motorcycling as a way of life.

The best defence...

I came across an interesting situation on the commute to work this morning.  I was travelling in the inside lane (of 2 lanes) in a 70 zone when just around the bend I notice a car stopped in the outside lane about 60 or so metres ahead of us.  I say us because there was a car in the outside lane to me left, basically keeping pace with me and keeping me level with her front quarter panel.  We were the front two vehicles ahead of a steady line of traffic in each lane behind us.

OK I suppose it isn't really interesting - unless you're interested in safe, defensive motorcycle commuting. To me, as an advocate for riding bikes to work and as someone who has a vested interest in being able to do so safely, it presented a great example of the hazards you face every day riding a motorbike in traffic (but may not have thought about).

Imagine a car parked in the left hand lane opposite the Keep Left sign
At 60km/h a vehicle covers 100 metres every 6 seconds.  Given we were traveling at 70, and that the parked car was less than 100 metres away, I'd estimate the car beside me had 3 seconds in which to analyse her situation and react to it before she slams into the stopped car.  At this point I am acutely aware of my position on the road relative to her: I am beside her on the road; she can't see me out her windscreen, and she can't see me in any of her mirrors.  The only way that she will know I am beside her is if she actually turns her head and looks, and registers that yes there is something there.

Based on this, I decided that there was potential danger to me if I just continued along as is and did nothing.  From that point it was pretty simple reasoning: if I slow down to make room for her to merge in front of me, I am placing myself in danger of being hit by the car behind me who may not have put 2 and 2 together, or just may not be paying attention.  On the other hand, the road ahead of me is clear, and my bike can out-accelerate her car without even trying.  Solution?  Twist the wrist, and put about 2 car lengths between me and her in under a second.  She merged in behind me and was able to get past the stopped car without slowing down, and the commute remained uneventful, just the way I like it.

And that's the moral of this little tale: if you want an uneventful commute, you have to be proactive in making it one.  Sometimes the best defence is being prepared to twist the wrist and accelerate away from potential danger.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why do risk averse people ride motorcycles?

My brother made mention of the fact that learning to ride a motorbike might seem an odd choice for a risk averse guy, which got me thinking about the whole idea of risk.  As a software developer I've been exposed to the concepts of risk and risk management when I've been inevitably dragged into the hellish echelons of project management, and the idea of risk management is essential to the topic of motorcycles and whether or to what extent it is possible to ride a motorbike safely.

There are four broad risk categories that the risk-conscious motorcyclist must manage and seek to eliminate or mitigate.  These are:

  1. Falling off your motorcycle
  2. Flying off your motorcycle
  3. Hitting something while riding
  4. Being hit by something while riding
1.  Falling off your motorcycle
You fall off your motorcycle when the bike's wheels lose traction with the road and the bike slides over onto its side, leaving you sliding along the road behind (or if you're unlucky, underneath) it.  The main cause of this is the amount of grip your tyres are getting changing while you are making a turn (that is, while the bike is leaning over to one side rather than being vertical).  You can minimise the chances of falling off your bike by avoiding those parts of the road that cause your tyres to lose traction (especially: loose gravel kicked up onto the bitumen, oil that has dripped into the middle of the lane, white lines painted onto the road (slippery when wet!) and "tar snakes" or other repairs that have been made to the bitumen of the road) and by keeping the bike on a conservative lean angle if you're unsure of the road surface.  A bike that is vertical is least likely to fall over due to changes in the road condition or grip, so the closer to vertical your bike us, the less likely it is to fall over.

Simple rules for avoiding falling off your bike: ride in the tyre tracks of the cars (ie to the left or the right of the lane) and be very careful on white lines and repaired patches of bitumes, especially in the wet.  If you're riding on roads where gravel gets kicked up onto the surface, stay away from the edge of the road.  If it looks like the gravel is distributed right across the road, take the corner more slowly and keep the bike nice and upright.  A front wheel lock-up under heavy braking will also completely lose all traction to the front wheel, and this will almost never end well.  ABS is your friend.

2.  Flying off your motorcycle
There's two things that will cause you to fly off your bike: a highside, or the rapid deceleration of your bike causing you to go sailing over the handlebars.

A highside is what happens when the rear wheel of the bike loses traction, then regains it again.  If your back wheel slides out and just keeps sliding, the bike will fall over as described in point 1 which is known in the trade as a lowside.  This is not desirable by any means, but the consequence of a lowside is that you thwack into the road from your normal riding height, and find yourself sliding along behind your bike.  A highside happens when the back wheel has slid out to one side and is pointing in a different direction to the front wheel, and then regains traction and kicks around to be in line with the front wheel again.  This is typically a sudden and violent change of direction and orientation for the bike, which will throw you off and in front of the bike, and if you're unlucky, up into the air.

The only thing you can do to minimise the risk of a highside is to not lose traction on the rear wheel to begin with.  A lot of the footage of highsides that you can find on youtube is, like the above, from the racetrack, where people are pushing as hard as they can and are attempting to accelerate while at a hefty lean angle.  Don't ride your bike like you're on a racetrack when you're not.  The following video is an excellent example in my opinion of what can go wrong when you're pushing too hard... I suggest you watch it - it's good examples of highsides and lowsides too :)

3.  Hitting something while riding
In 2008 in Victoria, 55% of motorcyclist fatalities were recorded as single vehicle accidents.  While there are historical issues with the way this information was captured that may over-inflate this number, overall the figure still demands our attention.  If you can understand the factors that influence where the bike travels, then you can understand how to keep the bike traveling where you want it to go, rather than off the road or straight into that signpost.

Lowsides and highsides are two ways of finding yourself sliding along the road without any effective steering, so they're good things to avoid.  The two other common ways of finding yourself going where you don't want are running wide on a corner, and target fixation.

If you're approaching a corner too fast, it is very very easy to run wide.  Firstly, the faster you're travelling in a corner, the greater the lean angle required to balance out the centrifugal force of the turn. Secondly, when you're nervous or you start to panic, you tend to sit stiffly on the bike and lock up your arms, which makes it almost impossible to move with the bike and lean it into the turn.

The second danger factor here is target fixation.  Motorcycles are pretty simple beasts on the whole - where you look, you will go.  Which is great when everything is going right... but when you're riding along and you see that one Keep Left sign in the middle of the road, don't stare at it saying "I hope I don't hit that Keep Left sign, I hope I don't hit that Keep Left sign" because you almost certainly will!  It takes a lot of discipline but when you're having an Oh Shit moment, you need to look where you want to go, not look at whatever is freaking you out.  This is the second reason you will run wide in a corner, especially if you're already coming in hot... you look at the edge of the road and think "gee I hope I don't come too close to that" ... or worse if it's a left hander and you look at the oncoming traffic.

How to avoid this?  Look where you want to go, and remember to pick a nice safe entry speed for your corners.  Sounds boring and simple I know, but it is safe and effective, and that's the name of the game.

4.  Being hit by something while riding
If 55% of fatalities were single vehicle, the other 45% were not.  Other vehicles on the road are the largest risk for the motorcyclist because they are the factor you have the least control over.  

The most common collision between a motorcycle and another vehicle is for the car to turn right across the path of the bike; either turning into a side street in front of an oncoming bike, or pulling out from a side street in front of you.  The most dangerous thing you can do is assume that the car has seen you, correctly judged your speed, and has decided that they should wait for you to pass.  The safest thing you can do is to plan what you will do if they do pull out in front of you, and be ready to do it if they start to turn.

This means that it is important that you practice your emergency braking and countersteering so that you can stop or turn abruptly when you need to... and again, let me praise the virtues of ABS.  A front wheel lock-up in an emergency stop will almost certainly result in either you hitting the thing you're trying to avoid (because you've had to release the brake and reapply) or the front end washing out and both you and the bike sliding towards whatever it is you're trying to avoid.

My rule of thumb is that you shouldn't ride a bike in city traffic until you've had 10 years experience driving in traffic.  Of course it doesn't have to be city traffic for a car to try to kill you, but my point is that with a decade of driving under your belt, you've most likely learned to predict what a driver might be about to do in any given situation.  And that will help to protect you from the stupidity and carelessness of other drivers.

Of course, the only thing that can protect you from your own stupidity and carelessness is you... so take time to understand the basic principle that if a driver doesn't know you are there, said driver can't take steps to avoid hitting you.  So there are a few simple rules for this one:
  1. Don't ride in people's blind spots
  2. Don't ride in an unpredictable fashion - if the driver in front of you saw you in their mirror 15 seconds ago, why not be in the same position when they check their mirror again in 15 seconds time?  If they can keep track of you, they will more likely preserve a safe distance from you
  3. Take up as much space as a car, and defend your space assertively.
The last point on avoiding being hit is to not let the acceleration of your bike become a liability.  Everyone runs a red light sometimes - remember that when you're sitting at the front of the lights and it turns green.  Yes your bike can get you into the intersection and up to 60km/h in under 1.5 seconds but take a beat to ensure that nobody is planning on running through the red.

So to wrap it up: why do risk averse people ride motorcycles?  Because the risks can largely be managed, eliminated or at least mitigated.  The above principles combined with regular practice have helped countless riders stay major accident free for years; combine that with wearing the right gear to protect you if something does go wrong, and riding becomes an exhilarating and rewarding passtime, and it sure beats the pants off standing up waiting for a train that will already be full!

DBMA Part 4 - Colac to Arthurs Seat

Daws Brothers Motorcycle Adventures - Colac to Arthurs Seat

Sunday morning saw us up relatively early (well, early for the Sunday of a long weekend!) and on the bikes by about 8:20.  The plan was to take the ferry across from the Bellarine Peninsula over to the Mornington Peninsula, and given our disappointment with the traffic on the Great Ocean Road the day before, we elected to take the direct route to Queenscliff rather than try our luck with the coast road up from Lorne.

The two most important tips from that Sunday morning are these: motorcycle touring is all about layers, and sunax sunax sunax sunax sunax!

I had prepared for our weekender with almost delirious optimism, choosing my vented summer jacket and summer gloves, and packing only tee-shirts.  Given I've got almost 50,000Kms of experience commuting in Melbourne weather I really ought to have known better, but sometimes enthusiasm and excitement can overshadow logical reasoning!  It was a brisk 10 degrees when we got on the bikes, and with some windchill calculations estimating a -10 degree differential, the perceived temperature out on the freeway was pretty bloody cold!  I was wearing both my tee-shirts for that leg of the trip, but instead let me what I should have packed:
  • long sleeve thermal top (I got mine from Snowgum)
  • lightweight long sleeve top (to wear over a tee-shirt)
  • wind-breaker jacket (again, I got mine from Snowgum)
  • non-ventilated gloves OR glove liners
 Embarrassingly I own all these items... it just didn't occur to me to pack them.  But there's a tip in there for new motorcyclists: when you're choosing a jacket for winter / all seasons, ensure that you can put it on with two layers on underneath.  If you can fit a thermal undershirt and wind-stopper jacket on underneath your leather jacket, you're good to go even in pretty ridiculously cold weather.  Still on the topic of buying yourself a jacket - do your research on spine protectors first and decide what spine protector/s you are going to use; that way you can have that spine protector on/in when you try on the jacket.

If you drive a car you're no doubt accustomed to flicking the visor down when you're traveling directly into the sun at a low angle.  Motorcyclists don't enjoy that particular luxury, and there's been many a time I have ridden along with my left hand up shielding my eyes from the glare of the morning sun.  Well, no more I tell you!  My sunax arrived late last week and I couldn't be happier with the results!  It has the same effect as the tinted band across the windshield that many cars sport these days - you can still see through it so vision is not impaired, but the glare and intensity of the sun is cut dramatically.  I can't believe it took me 3 years of riding before I got off my arse and bought one of these.

Anyway, one hour and twenty minutes of highway riding saw us arrive at the Queenscliff ferry terminal in time for the 10am ferry.  I've got to say these guys really have their act together when it comes to motorbikes - no need to tie it down, they just put you in the centre of the boat where there is the least motion, and you can come down to check on the bike at any time during the 40 minute crossing.  We met another rider on the trip across who recommended being at/on the bike when it reaches the other end as there can be a jolt when it docks at the terminal which could be enough to roll a bike off its centre or side stand.  We stayed with the bikes until the ferry had pulled out, and then it was upstairs to the cafe for a finger-thawing coffee and croissant for breakfast.

It's a pretty pleasant crossing as it is - the bay is smooth, there are tables to sit at, the coffee is good and the duration is short.  To be able to make landfall just a short ride from Arthurs Seat - a ride through some pretty picturesque scenery - made the ferry that much better for us on our whirlwind tour of some of Victoria's better motorcycling roads.  But I have to say that it was the dolphins playing in the wake kicked up by the ferry that was the highlight of the crossing.  There's something incredible about seeing wild creatures frolicking in their natural environment.  I would gladly take the ferry again over and over, just in the hope of seeing the dolphins again.  Better entertainment than the zoo for my money!

Off the ferry and onto the last stage of our little adventure, the ascent to Arthurs Seat.  This was my first visit to this particular strip of bitumen but by no means will it be my last!  The two hairpins are a bit too tight for my preference - I definitely enjoy the faster sweepers more - but in terms of Smiles Per Kilometer this is one of the highest scoring roads I've ridden... at least it was on the one clear run we had up the mountain.  Unfortunately we'd timed our visit to arrive just before lunchtime, so by the time we'd stopped there for coffee and scones, there was a (very) slow and steady procession of cars coming up the mountain which prevented us from getting another clean run through the twisties, up or down.

The nice thing about roads like this one is that you don't need to be going stupidly fast to really enjoy the ride.  Most of these corners it would be nearly impossible for me to speed through even if I wanted to, which means that even when I'm pushing myself to corner harder and faster, I still have no fear of being pinged for speeding!  Which is a relief since it really does free up the mind to concentrate on cornering lines, lean angles, and generally not pushing oneself so hard that one is in danger of coming off.

After coffee and scones we had a couple more attempts at the run, but were foiled by cars both up and down.  Finally it was time to say goodbye to Arthurs Seat and we headed off down some of the back roads to find a few more sweepers, before it was time for Ali and I to part company and for me to point my bike back towards home.  All in all a sensational weekend out on the bike, and the kind of trip that we will have to endeavour to do more often! 

Trip Statistics
Distance: 673 km
Fuel: 46.84 L

Mileage: 5.74 L/100 km
Fuel cost: $77.12 total, $25.71/Day, $0.095/km
Accommodation: $95

Food: $30
Coffee: $28
Ferry: $35.50

Total Cost: $265.62

Monday, March 12, 2012

DBMA Part 3 - The Lavers Hill Loop

Colac - Lavers Hill - Carlisle River - Colac

When you find a good road, ride it again. On this basis, we rode out of the Mid City Motor Inn and straight back the way we had come, coming to a stop in the car park of the Lavers Hill Store. This store is well worth a visit: the staff were pleasant and helpful, the coffee was good, and the lemon meringue was even better. Chatting with the bloke who served us, we enquired about the route back to Colac via Carlisle River.
"What sort of bikes are you on?" was his reply. I told him that we were expecting about 10km of dirt road, which sounded about right to him, so we set off north along Lavers Hill - Cobden Road.

The first corner is an absolute doozy. The road is an 80 zone and the corner itself is not signposted, so I was already well into to turn and rolling on the throttle when it dawned on me that it was a decreasing-radius 180 degree corner. Two lessons from this corner: firstly, a salient reminder to approach each corner based upon what you can see of it, not what you expect of it; and secondly, a huge thumbs up for my ninja being equipped with ABS, as I applied rear brake liberally which helped me tighten the line up admirably and keep the bike neatly on the bitumen where it should be. I simply can't recommend ABS brakes highly enough for equipping the rider to deal with the unexpected.

100 metres down the road, the tarmac gives way to gravel, and we began the most beautiful part of our ride. I wouldn't want to ride this road after rain, but in the dry conditions we experienced, the road was perfectly serviceable for our two road bikes. That said, both bikes were kitted out with RadGuard radiator grills to stop rocks being kicked up through the radiators, and I wouldn't suggest going down this road without one. I had a stone kick up into my helmet when I was rolling along with the visor up so there's no doubt that your own front wheel is just as capable of spearing a stone through your radiator as the rear wheel of the bike in front of you, so even if you're touring solo, I'd still recommend the RadGuard.

It turned out that my calculations were wrong, and it was more like 20kms of this rather than the 10 I had optimistically hoped for. We were averaging about 30km/h down here, and we couldn't really have taken it any faster due to the very short notice you get about vehicles coming the other way. We passed by a convoy of 4WDs who had been frolicking along the tracks through the forest; the road was easily wide enough for them to pass by safely, but I wouldn't like to have been going faster or using more of the road when we met them. To be fair, I'm sure a couple of road bikes was the last thing they expected to see coming towards them down this particular road! So unless you're on bikes that are more dirt road capable than ours were, I'd be allowing for a good 40 - 50 minutes to cover the dirt stretch of this route before you arrive at tarmac again.

It would have been about 4:30 when we pulled in for coffee, so I'm guessing that it was about 5pm when we started out for this stretch of the ride. Plenty of light for out cruising along the open roads of course, but as it happened it was much darker under the canopy of the trees, so I spent most of the forest ride with my visor up to improve my vision. Upon reaching the bitumen it was visor down and roll on the throttle... until the roos started coming out for their supper. If you're ever going to explore down this road, don't leave it till an hour before sundown. Most of them were startled by the noise of my ninja and darted back into the bush, but at least one was disoriented by my passing (or attracted to the roar of Ali's triple coming up behind) that he decided to hop across the road after me, presumably giving Ali countersteering practice, heart palpitations, or probably both. If it weren't for the wildlife, this would have been close to rivalling Charley's Creek Road as my favourite stretch of tarmac for the trip... long, high speed sweepers with good visibility and glorious scenery.

But knowing there were roos in abundance - we saw at least half a dozen - and being dive-bombed by a suicidal bird who thwacked me in the bicep at 100km/h, all in all the wildlife were too present a danger to really relax into the ride. Next time maybe I'll have lunch at Lavers Hill instead.

The last stretch into Colac was again predictably boring, but there is a Safeway-Caltex on the right just before you reach the main road, which is convenient for refilling the tanks and grabbing a cheap dinner from the supermarket before heading back to the rooms for a night of scotch and curry.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

DBMA - Part 2 - Apollo Bay to Colac

Daws Brothers Motorcycling Adventures - Apollo Bay to Colac

Heading west out of Apollo Bay was not the popular choice, which suited us just fine as it meant that traffic was light. We topped off the tanks before leaving town - the only service station we saw was on the east side of town, so if you're passing through Apollo Bay and you're thinking of fuel, stop at the shell on your way in.

We still experienced the seemingly mandatory "I drive at 20 for all corners" but as the road cuts away from the coastline and starts heading up through the ranges there are more opportunities to overtake. There was the typical idiot P plater who decided to accelerate as we were going past them, but a) that's par for the course at the best of times, and b) their car was never going to be an acceleration match for either of our bikes.

The road from Apollo Bay to Lavers Hill oscillates between 80 and 100km/h zones populated with sweeping bends that take you up and down the Otway ranges. Much of the time the road is shielded beneath the canopy of the surrounding forest which makes for an almost fantastic experience carving up corners through a tunnel of trees and bitumen. On the down side there is quite a lot of leaf litter on the road, so you need to pick your lines with care and stay clear of the outside edge of the road in particular. That said, it's time to start shifting your bum in the seat and leaning into those corners for 40 kilometres of sheer riding pleasure.

Arriving at Lavers Hill we pulled up in the car park of the store. In fact that probably should read The Store since as far as I can tell, Lavers Hill only has the one. It's situated at a cross roads: you can go west and continue along the Great Ocean Road; north to Carlisle River; East to Beech Forest; or south to Apollo Bay. Having already booked accommodation in Colac for the night, we decided to head there to check in and remove the bags from the bikes, so east we went, following the Beech Forest - Lavers Road until the turn off for Colac. This was, as they say, a Good Decision™.

This road has several names as you travel its length but the best of them is Charleys Creek Road. And like Charley Boorman himself, this road is epic and legendary. Variously 100 and 80km/h zones, this road sweeps and winds, climbs and dives, including one absolutely epic sweeper that seems to stretch on for well over 180 degrees. If roads could talk, this one would be whispering sweet nothings into the motorcyclist's ear. It is magic and majestic, carving a path through forests and ranges, throwing one corner after another as if it understands intuitively what it is you're longing for in a road and is more than happy to oblige.

After a somewhat disappointing commute down the Great Ocean Road, the run from Lavers Hill to Gellibrand was an unexpected and outstanding highlight.

From Gellibrand to Colac the road has a very fun stretch around Kawarren that will keep you grinning inside your helmet. It's a good quality surface and visibility is great, allowing you to see a long way into the corners and to pick your lines early. The final stretch into Colac is straight and slow, and though I didn't see any it's not hard to imagine a police car sitting there picking up bikes that haven't adjusted to the 50 zone after such an invigorating ride through the hills!

We were booked into the Colac Mid City Motor Inn, which is nice and central and easy to find, just a hundred metres past the McDonalds on the main road through Colac. Trevor - the proprietor - was excellent to deal with and charges a very reasonable rate, so I'll definitely look at going back there next time I have the urge to explore the ranges around Cape Otway. We didn't stay there particularly long though, just long enough to check in and strip the bags off the bikes so we could head back to Lavers Hill down that magical road.

DBMA - Part 1 - Great Ocean Road

Melbourne - Anglesea

The morning started early - 8am departure out of Eltham to meet Ali in the city at 9. We topped off the fuel tanks in Southbank, and then took the Montague on ramp onto the freeway and out of the city we went. The freeway down towards Geelong and the Bellarine isn't exactly riveting, but it's reasonable quality road with a good surface and enough lanes that on a Saturday morning you can keep at the speed limit with little trouble.

Turning off towards Anglesea and the Great Ocean Road, however, things started to slow down. First day of a long weekend traffic was about what I expected, but what I didn't expect was that people would slow to 70 in a 100 zone when passing the speed camera. At least they sped up to 80 again afterwards.

Coffee in Anglesea was delicious and helped thaw my fingers, which were suffering from my decision to wear summer gloves and jacket. Note to self: unless it is indeed the middle of summer, wearing all-season gear is probably a smarter move than your light-weight ventilated gear.

After re-caffeination, we jumped back on the bikes to commence the Great Ocean Road proper. Overcast with a little drizzle is not ideal twisty-road weather but I was determined to make the best of it. Weather is, after all, one of those things you just can't control.

It turned out that spitting rain and ocean spray was the least of our issues on this leg of the ride. The single biggest impediment to our unbridled riding pleasure were drivers who failed either to look in their mirrors, or to realise that they were in fact the "slow vehicles" who were urged by signs every kilometre or so to use the turn-outs on the side of the road, and to think of vehicles behind them.

It's a gorgeous stretch of road from Anglesea to Apollo Bay but stretches suitable for overtaking are exceedingly rare. We managed to get past the last slow moving car at Petticoat Creek, which allowed us to enjoy the beautiful sweeping bends and twisty corners for all of a scant 7 kilometres before we hit the outskirts of Apollo Bay. 7 kilometres out of a 74 kilometre stretch of road that we weren't held up by drivers with a seemingly pathological fear of turning corners.

One of the interesting observations of this leg was the nature of the vehicles that needed to slow to 15km/h for corners signposted 25. It wasn't just the old clangers and caravans - in fact, there was one caravan being towed by something like a Ford F150 that was not only very courteous with respect to pulling over when s/he could but also was quite capable of travelling at 80 along the stretches of road where that was appropriate, so big kudos to that driver! - but in fact was frequently higher power vehicles like a Falcon XR6 that were unable to consider taking corners even at the posted speeds. Needless to say, none of those vehicles earned the title of a motorcyclist's best friend.

Thankfully, the further we went, the more vehicles pulled off the road to the various camping spots or holiday towns along the way, so we were able to have a nice run in to Apollo Bay before stopping for lunch.