Three wheels on the Hume
Once again, the best-laid plans of mice and bears gang agley…
Mice? Who said anything about mice? But the bearly-laid plans definitely went agley when I headed down the Hume to Melbourne aboard Gilera’s three-wheeled Fuoco ‘scooter’.
I was full of plans. As well as testing the concept of the Fuoco with its twin front wheels in real Australian conditions, I was going to use the time to explore some roads for you — mainly ones that I hadn’t traversed for a while.
But mistakes were made — all by me.
The first, and truly important, one was that I trusted the weather forecast. Fine and cool it was supposed to be, as the high kept Antarctica’s icy winds at bay for long enough to get me to Melbourne. There were other mistakes made, but they paled into insignificance by comparison as I scudded down an icy cold Hume Highway under a cloud cover I reckon I could have touched if I’d stood up straight. But let us go back to the beginning…
Things were fine as I left Sydney in the pre-dawn darkness. It wasn’t warm but it definitely wasn’t cold, either. The Gilera hummed (while it looks heaps tough, it sadly sounds like a sewing machine) south along King Georges Road as I settled myself in the saddle. I no longer use the M5 tunnel from the airport to Beverly Hills, which is theoretically more convenient. A few months ago I was caught in a traffic hold-up down there and nearly passed out from the fumes. The ventilation is so poor that the wonderful and thoughtful NSW government advises car drivers to keep their windows closed and air conditioning going full blast. The only thing they could tell motorcyclists was something like “stay out of the tunnel if you want to survive”*!
Anyone still reckon motorcyclists get a fair deal?
Anyway, a right turn onto the M5 provided a chance to see what the Gilera is made of. It tracks as smoothly as a tram (a rubber-wheeled one, too) at speed, although there is a slight tendency to follow lines in the road surface. That’s like a tram, too, I guess. Oddly, and unusually, it’s the rear wheel that follows them. It’s not a worry. Top speed is, well, hum, look at that, top speed is thoroughly illegal. Let’s just say that the Fuoco’s 500cc engine will allow it to keep up even with… enthusiastic… tollway traffic.
I got a smile from the young lady in the toll booth, a common reaction when you’re aboard the slightly lugubrious-looking Gilera.
By the way, there is one fairly obvious drawback to the Fuoco and that’s the limited space under the seat. If you’re used to the huge luggage volumes of maxi scooters (and even the Piaggio-badged three-wheelers) you’ll be disappointed. I couldn’t even fit in a full face; it will only hold a small-shelled, Italian-style, open-face helmet.
Once past the road spaghetti of the F7 junction, the sun came up and I settled into comfortable, smooth running. The touring screen that the importers had thoughtfully fitted was very welcome, even though errant winds still got past it and rattled my helmet more than I really like. But the seat was commodious, and the distinctly upright riding position felt relaxed but alert. Yes, yes, I know a position can’t feel alert. Sheesh. You know what I mean.
The Fuoco tracks evenly and requires very little rider input to keep going straight ahead. Because the steering is quite quick in tight stuff I had been a little concerned about it becoming twitchy on the highway, but it was fine.
What wasn’t fine was the weather. Usually, the rain and cold set in when you reach the Southern Highlands but this time the bad weather held off until I reached Goulburn. From there on it would stay windy, cold and overcast with occasional chilly light showers all the way to Rutherglen. Well, all the way to Melbourne, really. Fortunately I didn’t know that at this stage.
When I pulled up for a coffee stop at my mate John Miller’s new home in Yass I noticed that a generous, lumpy red rash was colonising my wrists and arms. I could feel something similar along my thighs as well. Miller, who edits the Ulysses Clubs’ outstanding magazine Riding On, advanced the theory that I had obtained this disfiguring skin irritation from a toilet seat. I found this a little hard to believe since I’m not in the habit of embracing toilet seats (well, yes, all right, but I’d hardly had a drink for weeks), so I demurred.
He suggested that I consult Miller’s Pharmacy in the main street — no relation, he insisted — and sure enough the cream they provided fixed the problem. I still have no idea what caused it.
As well as getting useful medical advice and admiring Miller’s “new” R 80 RT, the coffee break gave me the opportunity to reassess some of my plans. It no longer seemed like such a good idea to head off cross-country in search of little back roads. If nothing else it would be just about impossible to photograph them anyway, given that there was no light to speak of. I decided to just run straight down the Hume and see if I could do some exploring down around the eponymous weir and the Murray River.
Good call, as it turned out. I had a well-priced hamburger nearly as big around as my helmet, though not as high, at the new-ish Bullocky Bills at the Dog on the Tuckerbox near Gundagai, and by the time I reached the Wymah turnoff at Bowna it looked almost as if my luck was going to continue to improve. The sky was showing streaks of blue among the grey and the Wymah ferry sign promised that the punt would be there when I needed it.
A few metres past the big ferry sign there was a small one that assured me the ferry was, in fact, not running after all and that my best course of action would be to detour via Albury. Then, as I turned south again to follow that advice the sky closed in once again and the clouds returned, along with a thin dispirited drizzle.
Great. Just think, I could have been in a nice warm office sitting in front of a computer instead of out here in the chilly rain… but why despair? What I obviously needed was — a pub!
Now difficult as this may be to believe, I had never been to the pub in Bethanga. Rejoicing in the slightly ominous name of the Court House Hotel, this establishment had been recommended to me by several friends including Get Routed’s Dave Milligan. It was clearly time to pay a visit.
Good decision, and not only because of the pub.
The road across from Albury to the Hume Weir and on to the Bethanga Bridge is one of my favourites, and the Gilera seemed to enjoy it too. Even with the damp roadway the twin front wheels found constant grip and allowed me to have a really good time — especially when I saw what awaited me just past Bellbridge! After a smooth, straight run to the hills the road curls up and over like a whip being cracked. Whee! I stopped at the top where a roughly surfaced lookout provides views back over the near-empty Hume Weir. The only thing that stopped me from going back for another go was anticipation of the road down on the other side.
That proved to be nearly as much fun, and also demonstrated the amazing grip the Gilera gets out of those doubled-up front tyres.
Bethanga reminds me a little of Castlemaine, but in a more rugged way. It feels friendly and the pub certainly matches the feeling. Motorcyclists are clearly welcome, and there are many interesting (code for “unpredictably surfaced”) roads in the area. A quick beer and a return trip over the hills, and below the weir wall I rode straight into a breath test station.
Well, “station” is a bit of an exaggeration. It was the Bethanga cop with his coloured lights flashing on the station car and a breath test unit in his hand. He was chuffed to find that I’d just had a beer at the pub right across the road from his little police station and we chatted for a while before I carried on towards my overnight stay in Rutherglen.
The Victoria Hotel has been a favourite of mine for many years, and I was interested in sampling the food now that it’s run by an ex-Regent hotel chef and his wife. The pub is reasonably comfortable, service is friendly and restoration is proceeding apace, but the food turned out to be remarkable only for its ordinariness. The range of beers is pretty limited as well. Ah well, two-and-a-half out of five ain’t that bad — and they not only offered the shed for the Fuoco but also added security if I wanted it.
So, while it’s no longer on my “recommended” list, it hasn’t made it to the “avoid” list either.
It was warmer in the morning, but the sky was still threatening. The light drizzle had also made a return; I know that any rain at all is welcome in the country these days so I’m not complaining, mind. But apart from a quick detour through the Warby Range near Wangaratta (more on that at another time) I thought I’d carry on pretty much straight down the Hume Freeway. Err… what is it with the naming around here; Hamilton Hume gets just about everything called after him, while I can’t think of a single geographic entity that’s named after his fellow explorer Hovell. I can’t even remember his first name. Bruce? I ask you, is that fair?
I mean, I can understand why nobody would want their town called Hovell, but there are plenty of rivers, ranges and so on.
By Benalla I was sick of the freeway and turned south along the Midland Highway. This is a pleasant enough run, although there are very few service stations and the ones that are there were closed. The Fuoco does not have a huge tank and despite its remarkable economy (4.5 litres to 100km, at pretty high speeds) it was now running on empty. Bonnie Doon’s servo came to the rescue. It also produced several people who came to goggle at the Gilera, a common enough experience in country and city. But this time there was added interest.
“I saw the BMW one of these the other day,” said one bloke in the traditional ragged, threadbare, too-short, once-blue overalls. “It’s much wider.”
I looked at him speculatively. Had he actually spotted a previously unreported new Bavarian three-wheeler being tested secretly in the hills of Victoria? Then a light came on in my by now well-rested brain. Amazing how relaxed it can become when all you use it for over a couple of days is keeping a bike — or scooter, or whatever — on the road. Actually, we need a name for these three-wheelers; they’re not trikes as such, are they? Anyway, I thought I knew what he’d seen.
“What colour was it?”
“Kind of silver,” he replied.
“Ah. That was a Can-Am Spyder.”
“Yep,” he said. “Can-Am. That was the name on the side.”
I still have no idea what made him think of BMW in that connection; he certainly didn’t know.
Because I’ve lost track of Melbourne’s road works I took a, shall we say, less than optimal route to my drop-off point in Kensington and got stuck in a monster traffic jam caused by road works at the Stubbs Road intersection with Racecourse Road. The lack of bulk of the Fuoco — it’s only as wide as a normal scooter — came in very handy and I buzzed past the kilometre-long tailback of gridlocked traffic in the cycle lane (that’s allowed, isn’t it? And anyway, there were no pushbikes using it).
The result of the ride? Proof of type, really.
The Gilera Fuoco is a lot of fun on narrow, twisting roads and it will stay with the traffic on the freeway (and then some). Seat and riding position are comfortable for a day at a time and more, and the accessory touring screen makes it a perfectly reasonable proposition even in poor weather. The range of about 250km could be better. Above all it’s easy to ride all day and in pretty poor conditions. Oh, and girls like it.
And, finally, when you get to your destination you can still sneak through the traffic. Apart from the range and the severely limited space under the seat, it’s a good thing — even in Australia’s tough conditions. Well, admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to try it in the heat of summer. Let’s see, when was the last time I was in Packsaddle?
*I have since discovered that this is exactly what they have suggested. Can I get a part refund on my rego, seeing I can’t use all of NSW’s roads?