Tales from a Motorcycle Saddle.


"G'day Mate!"

A story of Aussie warmth, hospitality and excitement, oh, yes, and a ghastly BMW.

Page 1 of 3: Around Sydney

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I felt a bit like a character in the opening sequence of a film. After two and a half days travel the Indian Pacific train with its twenty two carriages slowly came to a halt at the dark and deserted station. One person alights with a large rucksack and barely $5 on his person. The conductor nods to him, draws up the steps and speaks briefly into a walkie talkie, "OK Driver, passenger alighted". The newcomer watches the silver snake disappear and looks at his watch: 04.45, on a cold Australian Sunday morning. So started the second half of my Oz experience, a month in total of excitement, wonder and generous hospitality.

To relate all that happened, to describe all the places visited, the people met and the emotions experienced would fill a complete issue of On the Level, the magazine of the L.E. Velo Club. I gave Colin our Honorary Editor permission to print what ever he thinks is relevant to our readership, e.g. the club members I met, the bikes I encountered and other things of a mechanical or engineering nature. It will be interesting to see the result! I hit Sydney running at around nine in the morning and was whisked away from the airport at high speed by my friend Ellen in her not so new Honda Accord hatchback, a car with a strange stepless automatic box and manual overdrive.

The magnificent engineering of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in winter sunshine.

This was the first thing I noticed about the vehicles. They were American as opposed to European models, a high proportion automatic with big engines. Four litre Ford Falcons were very popular. Some Aussies complained about the price of petrol which to me seemed cheap, being approximately two fifths of the U.K. price. I met Ellen in 1996 in Norway. She sat either on the steps or the courier seat beside me on the coach I was driving and after the holiday we started corresponding. Never did I ever expect to visit her in Oz, let alone be taken care of and to be shown around in such a wonderful way. We stayed at her sister’s unit (flat) in Lane Cove. From that moment I was in awe of the natural beauty of Australia. The view from the second floor unit was almost rain forest, a thought supported by the arrival of a Rainbow Lorikeet on the open window sill, which later jumped on to Diane’s arm. Most mornings I was woken by the sound of loud tropical bird song.

Sydney - the city.

On the second day we drove down to the harbour in glorious sunshine. The blue water and high-rise buildings of the waterfront I found impressive and quite exciting. The tops of the buildings had company names on them, familiar ones like Canon, NEC, Novell, Unisys, Ernst Young and also unfamiliar ones like Teco, National Mutual, AMP, Goldfields and AAP. My time in Sydney was spent doing all the usual touristy things like a harbour cruise, hand feeding Kangaroos and stroking Koalas at a nearby park, visits to the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, The Rocks, Aquarium and Darling Harbour. We also enjoyed a meal three hundred metres up in the revolving restaurant on the Centrepoint Tower watching the lights of Sydney go by. Ellen convinced me I should try Kangaroo and Emu meat. Poor Skippy!

We also travelled out to the Blue Mountains, so named because of the bluish haze attributed to vapours from the Euclypt trees. At Katoomba we met another friend, Michelle, who had arranged accommodation in a two bedroom unit. These two days were extremely enjoyable - and cold! Ice was visible on puddles and on plants growing on rocks and the unit would not warm up, even with the gas fire on full all evening. This was one aspect of Australia that surprised me: the great contrasts in temperatures. A sunny windless day would be quite warm, but the nights, (which started at five p.m. on the East Coast) were very cold.

My first motorcycle encounter was when I met Lindsay, a fellow LE Club member. Diane gave me a message that he would be around about half past nine in a yellow combo. No motorcycle and sidecar appeared but when a yellow VW camper came into view I realised she must have said combi, not combo. She also asked me to mention her name to Lindsay, which I did, and yes, he did know her due to a shared musical interest. Lindsay took me to his house in French’s Forest, a suburb of Sydney, where two LEs were parked outside his garage. His intention was for us to go for a ride together but the older one, a black 1956 Mk2 was not running properly, due he thought to a very low battery.

Lindsay & his LE Velocettes.

The younger one, probably the third Mk3 to be built, ran well so he lent me a crash helmet, scarf and gloves and off we went. At least, Lindsay did in the VW. His drive was so steep the bike did not want to know. After two attempts I found out I was in second gear. In first all was well. This was an interesting ride, if only because it is the only other LE I have ever ridden. Compared to the Vulgar Velo it was quieter (perhaps the lack of screen contributed to this) and with a much better gearchange, which proved to me that I do have impending gearbox problems. Some of our journey took us along a three-lane highway (‘A’ road) where it is permissible to overtake on the inside. A word of explanation here. Ellen and I nearly came to blows over the location of inside and outside lanes. To me, the inside lane is nearest the kerb. She called it the outside lane, the inside lane being the lane nearest the centre of the highway. Anyway, we travelled along the third/fast/outside/inside lane with traffic passing on our left to enable us to turn right sometime later. We left the built up area and came to an unsealed road. With no warning I hit a rough section and the poor Velo crashed along noisily for a few metres until I stood up. I kept silent about this to Lindsay. We stopped at Oxford Falls for a few minutes before returning.

He then took me to Cromer, another suburb, to see a friend by the name of Raymond who had some interesting machinery. The most intriguing was an industrial version of our beloved flat twin, built with a steel sump and electric start. Raymond carried it outside, put some petrol in it, connected a battery, pressed the button and away it went. Without silencers it sounded like a Valiant. These were built for the refrigeration units in ice cream trucks. He then showed us some of his bikes. One was a mid twenties Douglas, originally with no clutch but Raymond had fitted one inside the flywheel! Outside he had a trailer with a couple of stationary engines on it; one was a 1938 Kelly and Lewis 3.5 hp model. To pump collected rainwater up to his tank he used a B.S.A. stationary engine. At the end of his property was a large shed (by British standards) and under cover was a 1940 Chevy truck in very good condition. A talented man.

A Lewis and a Kelly
Sydney Opera house from the top of one of the Harbour Bridge piers

That afternoon Ellen and I returned to Darling Harbour and I was to enjoy another aspect of Australia - the eating experience. With its close proximity to Asia and also with its American influence, there was a vast array of eating establishments to choose from. Being rather conservative in my eating habits it was a joy to try ‘foreign’ food. For a late lunch we had nachos, which consisted of corn chips, refried beans, guacamole, tomato salsa and cheese. Yum! Another experience worth relating was the Imex, a cinema with a HUGE screen. The perfect definition with no distortion was so life like that when the helicopter with the camera in it tilted, the image remained level and the barriers at the front of the auditorium appeared to tilt instead!

Suddenly Saturday arrived. Ellen had to return home and to work at Kieraville, about 80 kilometres south of Sydney and I had to pick up a BMW K100 from Sydney Motorcycle Hire. I had found this company by surfing the Internet and had booked the bike by Email. In future I would do no more than investigate by the ‘net. The company was Sydney Motorcycle Wreckers who also have a few bikes for hire. Ellen later said that she did not like the look of the place, especially when compared to the smart bright BMW showroom further up Wentworth Avenue. A quick hug and she disappeared, leaving me with a small back pack of life’s essentials and a few concerns. The staff were extremely polite and helpful, but I did wonder what I had let myself in for.

BMW K100

This 1984 BMW had 164,000 kilometres on the clock (103,000 miles) and whilst not a wreck, any bike having done that sort of mileage will bear a few scars. My main concern was lack of theft insurance though. Regarding damage, my liability should (should?!) be no more than the deposit of $1500 (580) but when I asked what would happen if it was stolen I was told politely I would have to pay for it. "How much?" I asked. "$6000" came the reply, but followed by assurances that bike theft is rare and most places of accommodation allow or even offer a parking place round the back.

A scruffy jacket, helmet and gloves were found for me, a quick description of the handlebar controls was given and I was left to play. The helmet was an over large fullface with a scratched smoked visor. I attached the bag on the back with some bungees whilst the engine warmed up. I was conscious of the bike shop behind me as I dressed up and oh, so carefully pushed this monster off its centre stand, and climbed aboard. It felt as big as a jumbo jet when compared to my little Velo, the feeling of size also being reinforced due to the fact that twenty years had passed since I last owned a bigish bike, a T120V Bonny. First gear selected quietly and with 1500 rpm showing on the tacho I slowly, even gingerly, pulled away up Wentworth Avenue in the general direction of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Pacific Highway. In my concentration I missed the road I needed and had to go around the block. It was then that I noticed how heavy the bike was, but put it down to the slow speed I was travelling. The Southern Approach to the bridge curved to the right and I definitely got the impression that the BMW was trying to run wide. Passing between the two pylons (towers) at the start of the bridge I had a weird feeling, not an out of body experience but a sense that I was looking at myself instead of being myself. It was almost as if my poor little mind could not accept the fact that here I was, on a BMW K100, riding in glorious sunshine over the magnificent engineering of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.

The traffic got heavier as I left Sydney. The inside lane (from now on such references will be as we English know them!) often had parked cars on it so I stayed in the centre lane, frequently being overtaken on both sides. The euphoria I experienced on the bridge disappeared. After half an hour I had the thought that if this is Germany’s best, they can keep it. Every curve was fraught with difficulty and going faster only worsened the poor handling. Next time I will definitely not hire a bike from a wrecker. The Pacific Freeway (motorway) was approaching and against the advice given to me by Ellen’s sister I headed off onto the Pacific Highway. "Avoid the highway" she said, "it is slower, more bendy and not as easy to travel along as the freeway." Car owners have no idea, have they?

After a few miles of sweeping bends and hills I began to wish I had taken Diane’s advice. My shoulders were aching from the task of manhandling this brute round the bends. I developed a technique of steering hard in the opposite direction of the bend as soon as I leant the Bee-Em into one, assuming that age, mileage and perhaps a bent frame were contributing to this phenomenon. The warm Saturday sun had brought other bikers out and I felt embarrassed as I took the bends at 60 kph which other bikers were swinging round in true biking form. When a lay-by appeared I stopped and looked at the front tyre. Its cross section allowed for a large contact area with the road when cranked over but looking down from the saddle it appeared to be low in pressure. Pushing down on the handlebars confirmed my suspicion; it was very low indeed. I moved on slowly to a group of bikers and asked their opinion. "There’s about a ****** ten pounds in there, mate" one offered.

He then suggested I sought out the NRMA (RAC/AA) patrolman who was seen a few hundred metres down the road. I did, and he kindly pumped it up with the compressor in the back of his truck, saying that he hoped it would last until I reached the next compressor. To cut a long story short, it didn’t. I rode away with the bike now feeling as it should, taut and responsive, although I still showed a little restraint. Now it was a sheer delight to travel along the twisty Pacific Highway at a decent speed, lining the bike up for each bend and having the power to accelerate out of them and up the next hill in a manner that no LE could.

The tyre was giving me some concern as it still was an unknown quantity. My original plan was to hire the bike for a week, ride up the Pacific Highway, cross the Dividing Range to the New England Highway, possibly around Tamworth and then return to Sydney. The first change of plan came about because I decided not to fly from Sydney to Perth but go by the Indian Pacific Railway instead. This meant I only had four days with the bike, not seven. I also like to travel slowly at times, admiring the scenery and stopping as and when I felt like it.


This was to prove a saving grace but at that particular moment I was still expecting to go the whole journey. A sign to Teregal caught my eye and I diverted off the highway. This was a pleasant little seaside resort with a beautiful bay, clean sand and gorgeous blue water. I left the bike locked in a small car park and went walkabout. I turned round to look at the bike - it is not often that I leave $6000 uninsured in a car park.

The choice of eating places was once again great so after a bite to eat and a walk along the sea front I wandered back to the bike. By now the afternoon was very warm - if this is winter, what is summer like? The tyre looked OK, so I dressed up, pushed the bike off the centre stand - and the front rim nearly hit the deck. My hope that Sydney Motorcycle Wreckers (SMW) had simply forgotten to check the tyres was dashed. I put the bike back on the stand, took off the helmet and jacket and sat on a seat nearby to ponder my options. SMW had packed up for the weekend so it was down to me. With cast wheels and tubeless tyres this was not going to be a tyre lever jobby. I walked back to the town centre to enquire of a tyre place or bike shop or failing that, somewhere I could buy a pump. No joy. I pressed my mobile back into service yet again and rang the NMRA. They said that if I joined they could take the bike and me back to Sydney, not a feasible option as SMW were closed until Monday. A young lady carrying a crash helmet knew of no tyre or bike place nearby but informed me that there was a garage just over the hill. By now I was running out of ideas, despite remembering my Father’s words of encouragement before I left: "You’ll be all right, you’re more resourceful than me". I doubt that very much.

The afternoon was by now very warm, even hot by British standards as I carried the backpack, helmet and rather heavy jacket in the direction of the garage. Luckily it was not too far and the chap inside was sympathetic to my plight but did not have a pump he could sell me.  Now then, when one is pushed into a corner with all the options unviable one has to resort to other methods, doesn’t one? Which is what this one had to do. Yes I know it is inadvisable and I know that a sudden deflation will have the rider off, but I did it anyway. This time with my Mother’s words of warning from my childhood ringing in my ears: "If in doubt, DON’T", I purchased an aerosol of tyre sealer, ignoring the words on the side saying: "NOT FOR USE ON MOTORCYCLES". Back at the bike, I dressed up, prepared to leave, then squirted about half the contents of the aerosol into the front tyre. It rose nicely so I rode off as soon as I could to disperse the sealant around the tyre. At the garage I put more air in and continued on my way. If any one wishes to severely chastise me for my actions, you may do so. I‘ll hang my head in shame and mumble things like, "Sorry, I promise not to do it again" etc.

The afternoon was nearly through and knowing that it would be dark and cold by 5pm I rode on praying that if the tyre was going to go down it would do so slowly. Very slowly. I was only about 80 kilometres from Sydney, day one with the BMW was drawing to a close and any thoughts of crossing the Great Dividing Range had gone. In a few kilometres I reached The Entrance. This town was situated at the entrance to Tuggerah Lakes; it looked clean, fresh and attractive so I decided that it would be my stop for the night. I parked near the water and watched some Pelicans eyeing a father and son fishing. The sun was low, casting long shadows in which the dropping temperature was already noticeable. Tourist Information found me a little unit which was smart and clean. Once settled in I rang a lady in Wyee, a town a few kilometres further on.

At Tuggerah Lakes

I had met Vera a few weeks previously when she was visiting England, more particularly our church as it was the church she was baptised in, married in, and then three years later buried her husband from. She emigrated to Australia around forty years ago and rarely returns to England. We arranged to meet outside her church the next morning, which we did. The tyre needed some air that morning but it was no problem. It was such a relief to find the tyre usable! Before she arrived I fell victim to the Aussie sport of Pom teasing, (again). "You’re from America, aren’t you?" said one elderly man, "I can tell by your accent." "England, actually," I replied. "Well," he retorted, with a cheeky grin, "I’d never have guessed!" He caught me again after church: "I’ve just seen a big red motorbike dragged down the road with the back wheel locked." This left me somewhat perplexed and he could see I did not understand. Obviously he was enjoying this! "It had a red helmet chained to the wheel too." I then realised he was referring to the BMW still parked (thankfully) outside.

I was talked into having lunch with Vera which effectively killed any notion I had of travelling far that day. I departed about 2.30pm, realising I had no more than about two hours of riding ahead. I rode North towards Swansea and Newcastle in glorious sunshine, not knowing my destination, just content to admire the scenery and enjoy the ride. Despite my complete assurance I was travelling in the right direction I occasionally had doubts due to the sun shining from the left which I could not comprehend. As I was travelling north-east surely it should have been shining from the right? I put it down to being on a windy road.

What about this BMW then? Above 60 kph I had to lower the visor which had an annoying habit of flying open when I looked over my shoulder, which was often as the fairing mounted mirrors were not much use. The bike had five speeds and a readout on the facia which proved very useful. The redline started at around 8,000 rpm but I usually changed up at 1,500 - 2,000! Once I took it to 5,000 and missed the change. There seemed no point in using more revs than I was. A buzzing, almost a grinding sensation could be felt around 3,000 or if I remember correctly, 80-90 kph which was my cruising speed on the open road. Another frustrating feature of this particular bike was the soft front forks, which combined with the snatchy front brake caused stopping at low speeds an impossibly bouncy task. Resorting to the back brake at low speeds was only marginally better due to an oval rear drum. Yet another complaint was the fact that the lower fairing pieces were missing. I did not notice this until I had to brake reasonably hard, slid forward slightly on the saddle and jabbed my left knee on the pointed corner of the fairing. Apart from all that it was a good bike!

I passed the industrialised Newcastle with its pungent smells and headed towards Port Stephens, recommended to me as an attractive area. The light was failing fast as I found a chalet on One Mile Beach Caravan Park. The evening was spent writing postcards and watching Heartbeart on TV, the first time for me! The night was cold and I settled down in the middle of the double bed almost fully dressed and with every blanket I could find. I awoke at 7am feeling pretty crook (rather sick) to what was to become a challenging day. Every movement was fraught with difficulty as I tried to get myself going with an incredibly bad headache, an unpleasant stomach and much shivering. Moving very slowly I took two aspirins and tried to work out why I felt this way. The possibilities were: 1) I had caught the bug that was contaminating the Sydney water supply when I was there, 2) I was dehydrated, 3) the pillows supported my head at an uncomfortable position, or 4) I was seriously chilled. I decided that the fourth possibility was the culprit. The time was now 8am, reception was open and I booked another night there. Unfortunately the shop was closed in August and there was no way I could manhandle a heavy bike with a nearly flat tyre to the nearest town.

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