Jim Graham has some fun in the snow
In July last year, after 30 years of motorcycling, I finally had my first “off”. A 4WD did a U-turn across double yellow lines right in front of me — the usual “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you”. My cruiser was a write-off, but fortunately I got out relatively unscathed.
I must say that Western QBE insurance proved very easy to deal with and had the payment sorted quickly; and they returned my excess promptly when they had recovered from the other party.
One of my reactions to the incident was that my next choice of bike had to be something that had ABS with suitable stopping power. I settled on a 2008 Yamaha FJR1300, which also has plenty of going power, as I wanted to do some touring and most of my riding these days involves the Speed Limiter (aka, my beloved wife) on the back. We live in Wollongong and regularly head up The Pass to the Southern Highlands, visit a winery or two, have some lunch and return. I love Sundays.
Recently, I had my first opportunity to get away for a few days touring, heading off on the Tuesday after the Labour Day weekend (missing the double demerits and hoping Plod was having a deserved rest). I chose to follow the route of the Royal Bender article written by Matt Featherstone in ARR #49, which runs down the south coast of NSW to Merimbula (via Sapphire Coast Highway through Bermagui — a great bit of tar), then up the Mt Darragh road to Bombala, which is every bit the “firecracker” Matt described it as.
I stayed at the Heritage House B&B in Bombala, which Matt also recommended, and found them to be very motorcycle-friendly, even allowing me to store my bike in the function room out the back. Thank God they did, for I awoke Wednesday morning to a world blanketed in snow, at least 100mm thick, and it was still falling at a great rate.
Day two was supposed to involve a ride through Wyndham, Candelo, Bemboka and the Brown Mountain Road, then a dash down to Orbost and back on the Bonang Highway. The forecast was for more snow the next evening, so I was looking for a Plan B to get out of the snow. I went for a walk down to the newsagent to get the paper to read while waiting for a break in the weather and found they already had the Jul/Aug ARR on the shelves. I grabbed that and, when paying for it, found that the newsagent was an avid local rider and ended up talking bikes for some time.
His counsel was to forget Brown Mountain because the road was closed and the Bonang Highway had 17km of dirt (read “slush” in snow conditions) and was best avoided in the current conditions. He advised me to head south down the Monaro Highway to Cann River as soon as the weather cleared.
Having only 5000km on my FJR (and not a mark on it) I was extremely nervous about riding in the snow. It stopped falling about 11am and I got some glimpses of the sun for the next hour or so. At 1pm I made the decision to make a run for it. I pulled on my recently acquired touring gear (thermal underwear, two pairs of socks, RJays touring boots, RJays pants with thermal liner, jumper and RJays Explorer jacket with thermal liner, RJays neck warmer and RJays Hurricane gloves, with an improvised beanie under the helmet to ensure warmth — a bit snug but I wanted warm).
I was most nervous about manoeuvring the bike out of the function room and onto the street because the pathway was extremely icy and the FJR is a pretty top-heavy bike, but it was successfully negotiated and I was off and running (if you call 40km/h running).
I tried to recall the advice for riding in snow given in ARR #41 and just kept the speed low and smooth, avoided harsh braking and kept the bike as vertical as possible. With the heated grips turned up to the max and the windshield up to provide maximum protection from the elements, I found I was indeed toasty, even though the ambient temp on my instrument panel was showing zero degrees.
Over the first 10km I gradually relaxed and increased speed to 70km/h. I was making good, steady progress and was really enjoying the experience. The view was spectacular. The surrounding countryside was all blanketed in snow and there was no one else on the road. I felt I had the place to myself. I would have loved to have stopped and taken photos, but the roadsides looked too icy to risk pulling over.
Up ahead was a bridge and I remembered the warning that bridges are the first to ice up, so I backed off to a sedate 40km/h and, yep, there was some ice. The bike slid slightly, but I managed to keep it under control. Glad I wasn’t going any faster … Then the snow began to fall again. this is interesting, thinks I. Then it turned to sleet and became heavy rain. Amazingly, I remained warm and the clothing lived up to its waterproof claims, so I also stayed dry. The snow ran out after about 30km and my speed increased as the risk of ice disappeared. I really enjoyed the adventure.
I filled up with fuel at Cann River, removed the beanie and jumper from my clothing inventory and headed back up the Princes Highway towards Merimbula. The rain stopped and I was able to push on and enjoy myself. I checked into a motel, had a shower and laid out my gear to air it out. It really looked after me under pretty extreme conditions. I was concerned how well it would perform because it was at the budget end of the market, but I was very pleasantly surprised. If the gear continues to perform this well over the next few years I will be very happy.
I had a great meal that night at the Merimbula RSL, the best club restaurant I have come across. The next day, I returned back up the coast — a great run with the addition of Cambawarra Mountain, Kangaroo Valley and then down The Pass into Wollongong.
The FJR proved to be great tourer. It’s clearly the best bike I have owned. I guess I could thank the driver of the 4WD for forcing the choice, but I draw the line … Thanks to ARR for providing the original inspiration for the trip and the advice given over the years that helped me keep the bike rubber side down. I am now busy planning my next trip, going over back issues of ARR and convincing the Speed Limiter to come along.