Letter from Down Under
The Great Ocean Road. B100 Torquay to Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia
Australia? Isn't that the place with 2000 mile long Roman dirt tracks where an eight car overtake only gets you half way along most of the lorries? Why would you want to ride a bike out there?
OK, so most of the land area of the continent is quite flat and featureless, but I'm down in Melbourne: do you really think that a bunch of convicts who live just outside the Donington pit entrance and only a short hoon from the Triumph factory would found a town without somewhere to scrub their sidewalls? My history may not be 100% accurate, but I think you get the point ...
So this weekend I decided to bite the bullet and try out the Great Ocean Road ñ as in "What, you're a biker and you haven't done the Great Ocean Road?" which is always delivered in a sort of confused and incredulous tone. The "bullet" I had to bite was staggeringly high bike hire rates, but after a short chat with that nice Ed Garner of Garner's Hire an acceptable compromise was reached.
My part of the compromise was taking out a BMW R1150GS instead of a proper bike. This beast towered over all the little Hogs with a stupid wink on it's face and big hanging jowls like "Droopy" out of the Loony Tunes. I don't know what to say about the duck bill! I doubted that it would get round any of the bends or up the slightest incline with its low power and huge weight. You may guess that I'm not BMW's best customer. So I filled one corner of one pannier with the weekend's supplies and the bag I carried them in, hauled Droopy to something near vertical and wandered out towards the freeway to Geelong (pronounced Jill'ong).
Half an hour down the freeway and it was time for the first carrot and hay stop. Once I'd realised that the indicators were a challenge too far for me and that Droopy was OK on the straight, we started to get on all right. With a one hour ride down the freeway to the start of the GOR and a strictly enforced 100kph, I just pretended I was on a naked Bandit doing 100mph and the buffeting was no problem at all. I came out of the shop with enough Whole Nut and water to keep me alive until Geelong and checked Droopy's fuel gauge: "still full", so it probably only starts registering once it gets down to 25%. Well, I've got an SV, so I'm used to stupid fuel gauges ...
On to Geelong and through the town then through a section which was starting to look more like the Shell Bay to Studland road. A nice gentle warm up for the legendary GOR ñ (that's a dragon-type legend that burns you, bites the ashes and throws the bits down the cliffs into the sea). Again Droopy seemed quite OK with it, all quite flat but comfortable when slow riding, filtering and on the slow bends out of town. The fuel gauge was still playing up, though with all the LCDs dark ñ maybe I should get a can for when it unexpectedly runs out?
Out of Geelong to Torquay, the scenery comes out and performs for your pleasure with easy, sweeping bends past breathtaking surfing beaches. The surfer in me had to admire the beautiful green point breaks on each of the East facing outcrops which just kept building until they smoothly curled over and rolled out, out, out as they ran along the point. Even I could do a reasonable job on one of those (maybe next weekend).
Torquay is the meeting place for the Power Rangers - predominantly SP2s, 996s and Hyabusas (I'm sure there is a theme there) but with a few Gixers, R1s and Blades. There weren't as many as I would expect at 10:30 on a Saturday morning, but rain was forecast and maybe they had all set out early. I found out later that this is winter and 13ƒC is a bit too cold. Different standards maybe? I breezed through because I was afraid someone might laugh at Droopy.
Just out of Torquay the GOR proper starts (photo). There is a layby just before the sign so that the tour buses can pull over and take pictures of the sign. If you can't make it out, the words are an Aussie translation of "Welcome to fourth gear heaven". I pulled over (obviously) to empty the panniers of any remaining food so that Droopy wouldn't wheeze too much up the hills. Unfortunately there was still most of the half pound bar of Whole Nut, so the job took a little longer than expected.
From the GOR sign you ride into one of the most amazing sequences of hairpins, switchbacks, twists, curves, Ö there just aren't enough words for "bend" to do this road justice! Each time you come out of a mouthwatering sequence, there is another section laid out in front of you with its own interpretation of How The World Should Be. This is where I let you all, fellow riders, down spectacularly. On each major outcrop of the mountains, the road swoops back in a series of bends back to inner or lower parts and if you stop at the apex of any of these bends a perfect photo is possible which you can send back to your friends to show them the lovely holiday you had. The reality is different, so climb on the back and I'll show you:
Ready? OK. Surge, snick, surge, snick, swooop, snick, flick, flick, flick, snick, roll, hold it.., nearlyÖ, surge, snick, flick, flick, snick, sky?, wudjalookatthat! roll, aaah, surge, flick, flick.
And if you were counting gearchanges there, take a virtual slap and read it again.
The "aaah" was the apex ñ could you honestly say you love anyone enough to stop there and take a picture? Well, without putting our relationship down, I can't say it was priority number one.
Hang on a minute ! I'm on a Beemer. I'm on a Beemer the size of Wales that looks like one of those things the Royal Society fellows used to bring in from unknown parts. Where did all that swooping and flicking come from? The last time I had this feeling of complete invulnerability on seeing a bend I was on a ZX6R that would comfortably fit into a deb's tiny purse. This thing HANDLES ! I'm on a road littered with 15 and 25kph advisory speed signs, unprotected vertical drops of who knows how far, broken kerbs and scenic distractions that simply have to be taken in. When a very tight corner tightens into a very, very tight corner, I just tip him over a bit more and round he goes. I've got to stop and check this isn't just an iron shell around a Mille ...
So I stopped and took some photos (see, I do love you really).
Back at the first carrot stop, a lady had approached me and just wanted to talk about the bike. At the stop to "unload" the panniers, a couple of Japanese girls waved their arms and giggled a lot at me ñ I didn't take it personally. At this lookout I turned round from taking the picture and another girly had settled herself onto the bike and was trying on the helmet. Clearly Droopy has a way with the babes that I can only dream of - he even has a special anodised stick in his toolkit to beat them off with.
So the natives were friendly. The rest of the occupants of said girly's minibus adopted me at this point - I had overtaken them at least three times following my stops to look at the surfing etc. so they felt I was travelling with them. But it was actually something I kept seeing when out on the bike, people were so approachable and approached with tips and warnings of how dangerous the road was and what I should look out for. It's easy to be blasé about that, thinking "these people have never seen snow or a British winter, so they would be over cautious" but you have to remember that they go out at weekends and drive down roads with potholes big enough to lose a Cat in (I don't mean Tiddles, I'm talking about something big and painted yellow - present company excluded). I'd probably call a friend with a Chinook if I had to drive to their houses. So I took the advice seriously - caution does not spoil my day, a lack of it certainly could.
And it's not just the tourists who give friendly advice. Plenty of "motorcycle blackspot" signs and similar bike-oriented stuff reminds you that someone is watching over you. He's been out with yellow signs too - the advisory speed limits are so consistently accurate that you know exactly what speed you can take through every bend. You may not actually do 25kph round a 25kph advisory, but whatever speed you feel comfortable with will fit each and every similarly marked bend.
A tag team comprising an R1, a Gixer and a Firestorm had been making a real dog's breakfast of the road in front of me just before this stop, so I made sure I pulled away first and off to Lorne about 30km away, the farthest point you can see on the coastal picture. I've never ridden or driven in the hills over Monte Carlo, but I imagine the roads are just like this run. No well dressed Aston Martin drivers in sight, but Droopy wafted past everything around him and the Power Rangers merged into the rearward horizon. I've seen Sean Connery making this pace but never thought it could be so easy in real life.
Now I have to try and give you some idea of the scale of this road. We've all found some really special twisty sections and have our own favourites in that area between Shaftesbury and the A31, but how about doubling the length of the very best part without reducing the quality? And then double it again? And again? You haven't even reached Lorne by the time you get to numbers that are used to describe computers. And Lorne is less than one fifth of the way.
As I rode into Lorne, I found all the missing bikes. If I'd been on the SV, I would have needed to stop too to do the same wrist flexing exercises, but Droopy was looking after me and we carried on to find out where the Beemer riders had lunch.
Another 30km of twisties slowly opened out into slightly more gentle countryside and we rolled down into Apollo Bay where I parked next to a R1150S outside a suitable looking cafe. 12:30 and three hours on the bike and my back, wrists, neck and legs felt like I had just ridden from Ringwood to Rownhams rather than circumnavigating Snowdonia. When I returned to Droopy my neighbour and his wife were just kitting up and another four bikes had lined up alongside. "Are you the BMW Owners Club?" he asked - we were the end of a line of six Droopies and K100s so it wasn't just one of those IAM things. Apparently the R1150GS is THE bike to have in Aus and he's rarely seen anything else this far out. The weekend run for sportsbikes is from Torquay to Lorne and back - a pretty good run by anyone's standards, but 40km short of lunch today.
Apollo Bay is on the edge of the Otway National Park and we had quite a change of scenery here. Although we had travelled through a reasonable number of trees, they were smallish and could not really be called forest. Otway is a real forest with fast sweeping bends made interesting with a margin and central area of bark and leaves on the tarmac and these were quite wet as occassional showers were now coming through. Steeper parts wind up and down with the road slashing from left to right and each hairpin is introduced with a broken surface typical of the tyre scrub of large vehicles. I didn't see any, but had visions of logging trucks lumbering up and down, scraping round the corners and drizzling debris as they went. So in these potentially treacherous conditions did Droopy cope? Silly question really. If he had any problems, he didn't tell me about it. We wafted through the forest at good speed in sure-footed style.
The other side of the forest I decided that the fuel gauge was beyond a joke. Reading 300km now and still no fuel light, I decided to fill up at Lavers Hill (picture). I filled myself up in the usual style and tried to coax some fuel into Droopy - at 40 pence per litre, the 18 litres was no big deal but he still had another 4 litres in the tank! It's a bit like going out for a session with a mate, he buys the first round for everyone and is still on his first pint of mild every time you go up for another. Of course you don't mind until he gets that anodised Werksding out.
Out of Lavers Hill you get a bit of a breather, with a road that reminds me of the section of the A36 just before Warminster - all sweeps and swoops. This leads into the Port Campbell National Park. The rain had started just as I pulled into the fuel stop and was hissing down by the time I got to the Twelve Apostles. You already know this park and the Twelve Apostles, it's on the front page of every tour guide you've ever seen of Australia - no, not the big red rock - it's the red coastal cliffs with all the stacks and surf - Old Harry and his mates going to a Cherries match.
My adopted family were waiting for me there. The babe's dad was quite concerned that I had trouble with the rain and led me out to one of the lookouts in the driving rain. Half way there and everyone else was wishing they had full waterproofs and a well ventilated helmet. Half way back and they didn't feel so sorry for me.
Once I got to Port Campbell (my overnight destination) the rain had stopped, so I carried on with the intention of riding to Warrnambool right at the end of the GOR. As I went, the roads became faster and straighter and the attractions were scenery rather than riding. With a stop before Peterborough at London Bridge (is falling down) and a few along the Bay of Islands, I finally turned back after my last stop at a charming little cove (Childer's Cove) where the roads became dead straight.
Back at Port Campbell I pulled into the Park View Motel to a beaming smile through the office window from Lynda. Lynda and Bernie run one of the most bike friendly places I have stayed at. I heard rumours that Bernie (a copper) had even put bikes in the police pound for riders who were overly concerned about their machines, but I'm sure this is not true. Finding a towel on Droopy in the morning, I thought someone had dropped it and Lynda had put it there thinking it was mine. It turns out she put it there because she thought I might want to wipe the bike down before riding it. It's those little touches that make the difference.
I won't write in detail about the ride back on Sunday, but in continual pouring rain as far as Bell's Beach I got back to Melbourne in three hours of riding. That's quite a pace with never the slightest uncertainty on any bend. If "Rain Man" has not yet found a replacement for the ZX12R, he should definitely go out and get a R1150GS.
Next weekend, it's the Dandenong Ranges, Great Dividing Range and maybe Mount Buller and there's no way I'll let Ed fob me off with a Duc, MV or Mille.
Motorcycle Hire (Garners)
Accommodation (Park View Motel, Lynda & Bernie)