New dog, old tricks

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Who could turn down an opportunity for a father and son jaunt through some spectacular alpine scenery in the NSW High Country? A bit of family bonding between navigating a riding loop that contains some truly awe-inspiring roads that are made for testing the limits of man and machine.

I taught my son to ride dirt bikes from an early age, hammering in as many good habits and bike control techniques as possible. When he reached his late teens and turned to the tarmac, I wasn’t thrilled, but it was probably inevitable considering his father lives and breathes bikes. Some of our best times were had on enduro bikes when we went bush for a few days and tackled the gnarliest trails we could find, so it was good to find an opportunity to get away together again on two wheels. This time I had borrowed the BMW S 1000 XR to test and do some travel photography, and Harley was keen to tag along on his late-model GSXR1000, which he had not taken touring yet. We like a challenge so decided to head into the NSW High Country, where some of the most fun touring/sports roads can be found, as well as some stunning alpine scenery to photograph.

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The one thing we were keen to avoid was long stretches of freeway riding, so we headed west across the Blue Mountains from Sydney and worked our way south-west on as many B roads as we could find. Harley uses a Bluetooth communication unit on his helmet so he can chat to his girlfriend while out riding, and he had fitted the second device to my helmet the night before so I could try it out. I have avoided these for years, believing in the sanctity of my silence when I pull a helmet on, and enjoying the lack of distractions this brings.

I did start to play with the options as we rode down the hill to Jenolan Caves and switched between my favourite playlist and telling Harley to hurry up and stop riding like a baby. Fact was that he was right up my clacker and I couldn’t have shaken him off if I tried. But a little sledging never hurts. He was doing well but was ready for a break by the time we reached Taralga, which is unsurprising given the riding position on the Gixxer. By contrast, the BMW was like an armchair, soaking up the bumpy back roads with its long travel suspension, and offering a relaxed upright position for me to enjoy the scenery.

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The fuel range on the Suzuki was a slight concern for us as servos are not all that common through some of these regions in country NSW. It took some convincing for Harley to fill up with 95 octane at Crookwell as he’s been used to feeding it a constant diet of 98 to date. Heading further south towards Boorowa, Harley kept tempting me to push harder through sections of corners, closing in behind me until I gave in and opened the tap a bit more. The XR has an enormous sporting ability for such a comfortable all-rounder, and the electronics enhance this without being intrusive. On one tight left-hander, the bike started to move sideways as the rear hit a patch of loose dirt I hadn’t seen, but before I could even react the bike had momentarily cut power, done whatever else it does to control traction and stability, and it was a complete non-event. I continued on down the road not quite sure what had just transpired, but feeling calm and impressed.

We made it to Gundagai for the first overnight and booked into a motel just off the last freeway exit ramp. Harley had put in a good effort without complaining, but his discomfort was obvious. A few drinks and a float in the swimming pool eased his pain and cooled us down. The weather had been typical late summer, hot and humid, so we got going early the next morning, figuring a cafe breakfast in Tumut might be the best option. The run across the Monaro Highway was uneventful, with us both exercising plenty of caution against stray wildlife wandering across the road to find their morning feed, and Highway Patrol officers getting an early start filling their daily quotas.

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We stopped for a photo and a marked patrol car passed by as we stood on the side of the road. He eyed us suspiciously and sure enough, five minutes down the road he was driving back towards us with his mobile radar mounted. Knew it. We fuelled up after breakfast, filling the Gixxer’s tank as far as possible as we couldn’t be sure of the fuel availability at Cabramurra, although it turned out that we needn’t have worried. The Snowy Mountains Highway is a great rider’s road and we enjoyed the run out past the Blowering Dam and lake.

At the Talbingo turn-off my adrenaline level started to rise as one of my favourite series of corners appeared in front. This set of slower-to-medium speed bends has good visibility and a well-sealed smooth bitumen surface, so as I sensed Harley closing up behind me, I dropped a gear on the XR1000 and went about testing the sexy German’s sporting credentials in earnest. Flicking the bike easily from left to right and back again as we climbed the hill towards the higher ridges of the Kosciuszko National Park is probably the fondest memory I will retain of the bike, and there isn’t a machine I would have preferred under me.

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Harley was going well behind me but had missed the initial jump to warp speed and, although he maintained the gap, he failed to close it. Ha, the old dog still has a few good moves left in him. As we settled into a more sedate pace across the high plains, the alpine landscape became more pronounced, with spotted gums and signs warning of snow and ice appearing. By the time we reached Yarrangobilly we were dodging large piles of brumby poo on the road. As we rounded one left-hand bend with an abnormally large dump in the middle of our lane, I had the sudden urge to drop my foot off the peg and lift it into Harley’s path directly behind me. Realising at the last moment, however, that he was very unlikely to share my humour, I retracted my foot and just enjoyed the amusing thought.

When we turned right at Kiandra I informed Harley that we were in the heart of the NSW High Country. It was getting hot again and I could see he was a little uncomfortable and squirming a bit on the bike. Enquiring as to his wellbeing, he replied that he’d put on a couple of pairs of shorts under his riding pants to insulate further against the sore butt he was developing, but the extra layers were making him overheat even more while doing little to aid comfort. Can’t win huh…

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We hit the tourist trail past Mt Selwyn and out towards Cabramurra, the highest town in NSW, referring to altitude of course. Otherwise we might be talking about Nimbin… Although the roads through this region are a hoot on a sports bike, they are also to be treated with caution. Debris and wildlife on the roadways are a constant danger, but the lack of any lane markings also seems to encourage travellers in motorhomes to use the entire width of the road to get around corners. And actually, to our surprise and dismay, it was other motorcyclists coming in the opposite direction who were the worst offenders.

Not wanting to see my boy come to any harm, I deliberately held him up and kept the pace honest in several sections. His mum would kill me if I brought him home broken. As we cruised past the ski village of Thredbo and put our heads back down to tackle the sweeping bends around the rock face guiding us towards Jindabyne, I did a few mental calculations and concluded that Cooma would make the best destination for our second overnight stop. As fun as touring on a bike can be, it is also tiring after eight hours in the saddle, especially on a sports bike like the Gixxer. And I doubted that Harley would complain about getting a cold beer in his hand.

Waking for our third and final day of riding, we walked out of the Alpine Hotel beneath a thick blanket of grey and threatening clouds. We had been lucky so far with the weather but it was looking like that might change as we rode over the Great Dividing Range to the coast at Bega. Nothing to do but pack the wet weather gear at the top of the bag and head towards Brown Mountain, and a bit more fun.

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It is an easy ride to Nimmitabel through open pastures and by the time we reached the misty pine forest marking the start of Brown Mountain, we were ready to start moving around on the bikes again, flip-flopping down the twisty mountain pass with little traffic to impede our rapid forward progress. A good aspect of longer rides is that you tend to get into a good groove after a day or two and the confidence this brings can help you refine skills, or even learn new ones, which is what I was noticing with Harley. Observational skills, like what to look for and the best way to react to potential threats as they present themselves, is a good example. It had been a while since I had ridden a purely road-going bike and route, usually opting for at least some unsealed minor roads or tracks. The sportier aspect of this ride was agreeing with me, though, and the BMW was almost intoxicating with its constant urge to push a little harder, helped in part by the glorious note emanating from the exhaust and reverberating off the rock walls as we rode up and down the mountain passes.

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We had been lucky with the rain holding off, but when we turned left at the Princes Highway and started up the Warrigal Range, it started to come down. We were on the edge of the Great Dividing Range and I reasoned that we would probably ride out of it as we rode down the other side, opting to duck down behind the screen for a while rather than stop and don the cumbersome wet weather suit. Luckily it was a good call and by the time we stopped for coffee at Cobargo, the clouds were behind us and left us alone for the rest of the day. We discussed options for riding back to Sydney and whether it was best to ride directly up the coast, but despite his slightly aching shoulder muscles and butt, Harley voted to do the Clyde Mountain detour at Batemans Bay for one last chance to use his bike in its most natural environment — corners.

As we scratched our way up the hill, the GSXR grunting out of the corners in front of me, I had the chance to reflect on how lucky we are to have areas like this all across Australia to stretch out on bikes that are getting so easy to ride fast, and how awesome to be able to share it with the people closest to you. It was a pleasure to see my boy honing his riding skills and learning new tricks, which will hopefully help him survive in the saddle for as long as, or longer than, his old man.

STORY AND PHOTOS: TIM MUNRO

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