Bikes and their owners meet at the Narellan Maccas, south of Sydney, at 7:45am on the first day - a Friday. Cruelly, that means a 5:30am wake-up for most. Weather is perfect - sunny & warm - not hot. 18 or so participants on a range of (mostly) Japanese road machinery, with a few German bikes for good measure (keeping the European end up).
The group are all 'netriders who subscribe to the sydride mail server. Two women grace our presence - Sue on a battle scarred Honda Transalp, and Judith on a raunchy GSXR750. The tour has been 4 months in the planning - ever since an extraordinarily successful netride to the Oxley Hwy, in northern NSW, last year.
Laurie, (ZZR1100), master organiser, distributes route maps. Starters are thumbed, rumbling machinery beats the air, locals stare nervously, and in an orderly file we motor down the Hume to RV at Mittagong with still more participants.
The fun button gets pushed as we peel off at Bowral to connect through the rolling farms of the Southern Highlands to drop down to the Kangaroo Valley and the coast. Judith's gear sack objects to the Barrengarry escarpment twisties and promptly falls off the GSXR. Happily bike, rider and luggage are soon reunited and tied down firmly.
Cambewarra Mtn separates this scenic valley from the NSW south coast town of Nowra - and is quickly climbed over by a series of poor quality, high trafficked twisties. Warms the tyres though and sets the hooning mood for the trip.
Fuel at Ulludulla. Some bikes require PULP to avoid the dreaded pinging from pre-ignition. That's what you get with today's high compression engines. More orderly motoring down the NSW south coast - along the Princes Hwy - to Batemans Bay where we turn inland to the town of Nelligen. A beautiful spot by the Clyde river and the group exhausts the local caf with a score of orders for works burgers. A tour bus of Women's Weekly world discovery tour geriatrics fawn over the BMWs - a K1100LTSE and a K1200RS. Our group watches from a distance, making disparaging comments like; "does drool damage paintwork?" and; "just proves that Beemers only attract old farts!"
We're on the Kings Hwy now, sweepers snaking west through coastal temperate rainforest, and then climbing to the high country east of Canberra via some short-lived twisties. Hardly enough to get the adrenalin pumping - especially as plod is cruising in a marked vehicle. He manages not to ping any of us - must be a very disappointing day for him. Plod displays responsible driving by performing a screaming u-turn in front of Tony (K1100LT), and then cruising for victims at 40km/h in a 70 zone. Thankfully for the group, this is the first and last pursuit vehicle we see on the four day tour - although not our last brush with the law...
Fueled at Bungendore. Laurie's carefully organised tag system - to get the large group though all the tricky turn-offs in the route ahead - fails not 50m down the road as the last three are not 'tagged' - and take the wrong turn. (In fairness the system works well later in the trip). Eventually everyone makes it to the next meeting spot - Coolac - south of Yass on the Hume Hwy. The pub here is a welcome break - but an unwelcome break for Ben, literally, as his immaculate TRX850 sinks its stand into the hot asphalt and topples over. Bent clutch lever and small crack in the fairing - he can easily ride on.
We turn off the Hume at last for a rough sealed track (with a few kms of good dirt) to Adjungbilly, so that we can scrape over the Black Range to Tumut. The sealed sweepers are not so sweet though as loose road works gravel quell any inspired heroics. Tippy-toe caution all round as day 1 comes to an end at the Royal Hotel in the town that shares its name with several of the hydro-electric power stations in the Snowies. Comfortable accommodation 'round back of the pub for most, a few elect to camp, and the group settles into some light drinking and carousing over a bistro dinner. You can imagine the stories swapped as combined decades of motorcycling tales spill out over the beer soaked tables.
We're all pleasantly exhausted. All riders and bikes are safe and well (so far). Sleep comes easy for some, and hard for others as their brains keep buzzing - mulling over the riding roads ahead. Drifting off to sleep, my left foot jerks spasmodically as I row an imaginary gearbox.
Next morning the rallying call sounds as bike engines are warmed up - exhaust fumes gassing us out of our rooms. The air is cool & crisp - its another perfect riding day. Laurie, group 'leader', leads the procession out of town along the famous Snowy Mountains Highway. This extraordinary piece of road construction connects Tumut to Adaminaby, Cooma and eventually Bega on the NSW south coast. We're motoring in a sou-east direction, which takes us into the wilds of the Kosciuszko National Park. Climbing the cold dry farmland with its sparse grasses beside Blowering Reservoir, we're still in heavy shadow. The early hour gives the landscape and air a winter quality despite the mid-summer skies. I find it delightfully refreshing - and with the heated grips on the K1200RS set to full toasty - I'm somewhat protected from the early chill. Some others with slipperier fairings and no heating stop to don extra clothing under their leathers and hug for warmth.
Big gray kangaroos by the dozens peer fearlessly at us from the steep fields close by the roadside. Road kill is everywhere - furry road balloons as we affectionately know them. As high speed arguments with large wildlife would result in pain for all parties - we keep speeds way down for now, and a scanning eye out ahead.
We're soon climbing into the National Park - up to the high country with alpine grasses, snow gum forests and peat bog lakes. Some short, gnarly twisties around Talbingo Mtn allow us to warm our tyres. Neil (CBR1100XX) proves that grunt does count and proceeds to use the brutal power of the Honda to squirt ahead despite the taxing surface and nasty corners. His brand new Dunlop D207 rear helps - although by trip's end - 2,500kms later - the bike's weight and power delivery chews the tyre so badly it looks like black shag-pile carpet. The leading edges of the grooves bevelling, and the trailing-edges flaring - even though Dunlop claim the new tread pattern stops this from happening.
Topping out onto the alpine tundra - the road surface quality improves dramatically, and curious yellow paint for line markings prove the road is often snow and ice bound in winter. The Snowy Mtns Hwy is now a series of short straights and constant-radius linked sweepers that rise and fall gently over the high country plains. Jeff's VFR750, Neil's CBR1100XX and my K1200RS hunt through these in a small pack. For me, the Beemer is a 'bahnburner par excellence - holding a rock-steady line around open-sighted 75km/h curves at unprintable speeds. When in this 'zone' - the K12 just inspires supreme confidence - happily aided by smooth surfaces and rear suspension cranked close to max in both preload and rebound damping.
As a corner sucks toward me, periphery blurring - my focus is absolute - there's no room for distractions like work or home worries. Total commitment is demanded and given. I blip the gearbox down to 4th, hang a cheek off the seat and slide the knee on that side forward and down. I transfer my weight toward the front of the bike by crouching low over the windscreen. The bike turns in steadily, following my gaze, heeling over more and more. She's rock solid - no wallowing, shimmying or deviation from the chosen line. Some muscle is required with the wide clip-ons to force her to commit harder & deeper to the corner if it tightens. This is no 916 where you think a line change and it takes it - this puppy needs pressure on the bars to take a more aggressive line during the sweeper. By the apex the pleasure that this perfect corner gives me is indescribable. I roll on a good handful of throttle, the 1200cc motor gives a teutonic growl (the exhaust is ridiculously quiet) and grunts the machine out of the corner.
We've chosen an average w/e out of ankle-biter holidays for the trip - so Sheila and Bruce and the kids are happily absent from the roads. We pass or overtake only a few vehicles all the way to Adaminaby.
The short series of twisties before Adaminaby are thrown in to keep you honest about your concentration - refocusing from a high-speed sweeper zone into a short aspect, throw-your-weight-around zone is a tough ask. It's so easy to over-cook the first few corners as the road suddenly tightens. The road quality is excellent, other than one corner with a few stones and another with a deceptive decreasing radius in the last third.
At the Adaminaby BP we're chuffed to find PULP on sale. This is our first stop after the trip's first real road of purpose. Everyone has grins from ear-to-ear as they pull over and squeeze off their helmets. The bikes stink of over-worked parts and sigh in that motorcycle way - "tinka, tink, tinka, tink". We're soon babbling to each other like school kids on an excursion to Dreamworld. The atmosphere of excited awe is infectious even for the old timers who've known this road many times before. For me, it's the first - and its easy to see why this long ribbon of tar is one of the most popular biking roads in the country.
Great to see everyone getting on like proverbial houses on fire. We're from all works of life and vary in ages from early twenties to late forties - yet the common thread of passion glues us socially in a way you can observe only in other extreme sports groups.
All bikes are behaving themselves so far - although Andrew's ZZR1100 has a faulty starter - but he's a tall strong bloke and becomes adept at the old-fashioned racing-style bump start. Sue's Transalp drinks more oil than fuel, and Judith's ex-racing GSXR750 has trouble starting when cold. Amazingly, Rob on an XJ900 with 180,000kms on the odo has no problems with the ancient Yammie.
Leaving The Giant Trout behind, (resisting the temptation to take the obligatory photo), we RV with some Canberra-based netriders at the turn-off to Middlebank and Berridale. This route allows us to cut-out much of the heavily patrolled Monaro Hwy that connects Canberra with Jindabyne and the NSW snow fields. More flowing sweepers ensue before we finally arrive at the Jindabyne BP for more bang-water. Must admit, BPs in the NSW snowies seem to be the places with PULP.
We're keeping to a tight schedule, so we're soon off to Charlotte's Pass via Perisher Blue ski resort. Charlottes is the closest you can get to Mt Kosciuszko by road - but this normally lovely stretch of road through the sparsely vegetated (above the tree line) alpine valleys is ruined by a series of major road works. Long stops at temporary traffic lights are taken in good humour however. We chat amiably with the RTA guys who find the long line of motorcycles more interesting to watch than the work before them. They're shocked to find we plan to be in Mt Beauty in the Victorian Alps by that same evening.
Lunch is at the old Jindabyne shopping centre - with its brilliant open forecourt, granite stonework and view over Lake Jindabyne and statue of polish explorer Strezlecki - pointing his way to the mountains and looking like a purposeful Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
Setting out for Thredbo, Tom Groggin and Khancoban in the Murray River Valley - we discover one of the best kept secrets in the country - The Alpine Way is awesome - just way too awesome. I simply cannot do this road justice in words; it has sweepers, not-too-tight twisties, steep mountain descents, forest storming like that mad scene from Star Wars with the scooters flying amongst the trees, and canyon carving as we motor through man-made gorges that were gouged through by the hydroelectric workers in the 50's. Scammels Spur lookout offers a soul-lifting sight of the south side of the NSW alpine country - down which we had just plunged. Guess many road riders think this route has too much dirt - but can you keep a secret? There's now only 7kms or so of easy gravel on this most excellent road.
Descending now past hydro power stations to the pretty village of Khancoban is mad riding on snaking roads - bikes are metronomes pivoting in time to the beat of the Alpine Way, accompanied by an orchestra of screaming gears and howling exhausts.
Past Khancoban, we're now cruising down the Murray Valley Hwy - easy yet intensely satisfying 140km/h sweepers unfold before us as we hasten to the smell of Victorian beer waiting for us in the lovely alpine town of Mt Beauty. We pass the Melbourne netriders who've planned to meet us up here and join us for the night in Mt Beauty. The mexicans turn around and motor after us - succeeding in catching us but more than a little surprised at the high average cruising speeds.
At Mt Beauty we sample the biker-friendly Caltex servo, and 'crash' at Annie's Snow View Apartments. This simple but excellent accommodation is nestled into the hill-side a short stroll from the village centre. There's beer waiting for us in the fridge and the pool is soon the place to be - delightfully cool and refreshing on aching limbs. We wait for Andrew and Laurie (both on ZZR1100s) to arrive - some concern about what's happened to them. Turns out Andrew's rear tyre, a Pirelli Dragon with allegedly 3,000kms left in it, has spat the dummy at all the high speed fanging. The tyre is down to the canvas right around the centre. Andrew leaves the bike in the care of a local friend, and pillion's with Laurie to the Snow View. An amusing image as the lanky Andrew unpeals himself from the ZZR's rear perch.
Dinner on Saturday night at The Grainery is another example of Mt Beauty's bike-friendliness. A delicious meal and waiting staff who are more friendly and polite than anything this side of the States. After a stroll back to Annie's, a bottle of port is finished off by the pool under an intense expanse of coldly brilliant stars.
Next morning, Jeff (VFR750) volunteers to take Andrew back to his Kwaka (a 1.5 hour return trip) to hunt down a rear hoop. Generosity like Laurie's and Jeff's make these trips the success that they are. Sadly for Andrew, whilst he uncovers a 2nd hand tyre in a close-by town that will fit, he's unable to remove the rear wheel thanks to a sheered nut. He meets us briefly later in the day for lunch at Bright - but his itinerary is a lonely one as he must stay alone in the area that night to get proper repairs effected the next day.
Sunday is just another shitty day in paradise. Sunny, windless and delightfully cool again. We sample Annie's bran muffins, (which jet propel us for the rest of the trip), but never see her Triumph Thunderbird she secretes in her garage. We're soon motoring off to Falls Creek up an extraordinarily tight 30kms of endless forrested mountain curves. No speeds posted on the corners - so no-one is hero-peg scratching these bastards, although (a different) Andrew on a VFR750 with D&D exhaust roars up the mountain like a lit rocket. My Beemer can hardly hold him given its long wheelbase and slower steering geometry. The corners are almost too tight - but taken on a rolling throttle - a lot of fun is had by everyone, including the tourers. We stop only briefly in the frigid air at the top - as the itinerary demands we keep moving. We're soon off to Hotham Heights on similarly unbelievable twisty roads. And I thought the Oxley Hwy in NSW was good! This stuff shits all over it. The road is deeply benched into the rid
Sue (Transalp), Frank (K1100LT) and Jeff (VFR750) take the dirt route from Falls to Omeo and then back up to Hotham Heights. Sue offs in the dirt down to Omeo. The bike loses half a brake lever but is otherwise looking indistinguishable from its previous banged-up shape. Its owner has sustained suspected cracked ribs in the fall, but Sue soldiers on stoically for the rest of the trip. They report back that the Blue Duck Hotel b/ween Falls and Omeo is a totally magic spot that deserves an overnight stay.
Now down to Bright for lunch, up to Mt Buffalo (yet more exhausting twisties) and then across to Tintaldra for the night. Motoring to Tintaldra is a big hike so late in the day. We scoot through places with outrageous names like Yackandandah and Tangambalanga - (just try saying that 10 times fast). The road by Lake Hume is perfect high speed cruising - with nary another vehicle in sight. Victoria is great like this - rural areas with bugger-all population are still served by a network of great bike roads. That's hardly the case in NSW. Lake Hume imparts a surreal atmosphere - with its hundreds of flooded trees poking starkly from the waters. We stop for fuel in the deserted town of Tallangatta. Laurie had phoned ahead to ask the rickety servo to stay open to fuel 20 thirsty bikes. I'm putting octane booster into the K12's tank now that only standard unleaded is available. The stuff works - there's no pinging. I try not to breath the fumes as I hear octane boosting additives are incredibly toxic. Local plod p
Alf at the Tintaldra pub is another example of north-eastern Victoria's biker friendliness. And Alf's wife Maija puts on a great feed for the group. I sleep like a dead man that night - the 650km of awesome roads having used up all my reserves. Next day we're off by 8:15am - over the Murray and motoring the extraordinary Elliot Way to Cabramurra. We climb dramatically from the Murray valley into real alpine country again - the temperature drops 8 degrees and the vegetation turns to snow gum forests. Some unforgiving but fun twisties are brutally dissected in the frigid morning air around the Tumut river and past Tumut 2 power station.. Cabramurra is an oddly artificial village - a company town - built by the Snowy Mnts Authority for its hydro workers. The view from the town look-out offers an amusing view of rows of identical homes with green-painted corrugated iron roofs all sloping the same way to discard the winter snows.
There's a bushfire around Talbingo Mtn, on the Snowy Mtns Hwy near Blowering Reservoir. This had been the planned route home, but as the road is closed nor-west of Kiandra, we must travel sou-east instead to Cooma. Some more high speed work through the alpine tundra has us travelling at speeds that test the purpose of design of each of our machines. The telling thing is that everyone is chuffed with their bike, whether on tourers, sports-tourers or race replicas. The capability of any machine is totally rider subjective. Even Neil and Rick, two-up on a ZZR600, are happily carving the laden bike through the curves - albeit near the back of the group.
On the Monaro Hwy we endure convoy duty thanks to the suspected presence of plod. We stop at Collector, just north of Lake George, for a late lunch at the classic old Collector pub. Why stop at Maccas when you can soak up the atmosphere & local history of a country pub like this?
The group now splits and heads home in different directions - depending on what part of greater Sydney they come from.
We'd successfully completed a real-world tour of the Australian (mainland) alpine country - and proved that a large group can compress 2,500 kms into just 4 days - and still enjoy every exhausting second of it. All credit to Laurie Williams (ZZR1100) who shed blood, sweat and tears to make it happen. An extraordinary effort.
What'll be the next netride adventure - and will you virtually be there?