Snowy Mountains 2002

Mid November 2002 was the scene of a a recreation of last year's large fundraising ride centred around Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains region of NSW and ACT. Last year we left on the Friday, but we expected there to be a lot more bikes and police presence there this year, so we left a day earlier. The idea was to have fun getting there, then have a day on the roads to ourselves and on the saturday do some spirited cruising but not all-out hooliganism of the previous days, followed by a cruise back home on the Sunday. Now that I'm living in the USA, I had to travel home for this one. I also came armed with a digital camera this time, so many more photos were taken. I didn't get many on-road shots because I was waaaay too busy enjoying myself to be taking photos....

So last's year's ride was about trashing tyres, this year it has to be about not trusting them enough to trash them. Some back story....

Living in the USA has left my two bikes in Sydney. The Vtd is going to be purchased from me by my mate Chris, who's been looking after it for me. When last I saw my bike, it was a bit on the rough side. I'd just thrown it down the road on turn 11 at Eastern Creek due to a misfiring engine (misfire right on the transition point from full brakes to rolling into the corner, leading to the rear trying to swap ends with the front). During that time, it had been back to Mladin's - yes that Mladin. None other than Mat's store here in Narellan. I know Mat pretty well and when he opened the store that is where I started taking my bike for servicing. At one point I needed the regular cam-chain tensioners replacement. This didn't end up coming back from the shop right. Strange thing was that it was not consistent. Sometimes it would run right, others it ran like shit. Several times it went back to be looked at but they didn't "find" anything. Anyway, after my off, Chris lifted the heads and found the front cylinder intake port was out by one tooth. Pretty huge timing problem! Anyway, it went back to the shop like this with orders to Fix It. Grumble, grumble from Mat's new mechanics (AFAICT his race mechanics from his team in the US). From all reports, pretty sultry guys, probably not used to customer service oriented things.

Anyway, the bike comes back from them all fixed, but everything is completely out of whack. Suspension setups wound back to zero, chain loose, everything. Not happy Jan. So it takes Chris quite some time to dial the bike back in again - to his weight, which is about 15kgs heavier than me. The tyres are looking pretty shot too from the recent track daying, so we decide to put some new ones on. The RSVR boards here have been raving about the new Sportec M1's, and through our racing contacts have a source of very cheap tyres, so we decice to put a set on for this trip.

Around this time, I arrive back in Sydney and the adventure begins properly. It's Wednesday the 13th November. Picking up my bike from Chris' place I trundle off to deal with the usual set of chores. Stupid bank canceled my credit card on me because I hadn't used it in ages, do some shopping etc. Dropped into Mladin's to see what was up and talk about things. Wandered around to the shop area to meet the mechanics and get greeted by Mat himself - in full shop atire, working on a customer's chookie doing a clutch and rings replacement. How many other top-level racers would you find doing that in an off-season? Despite what you read of him in the international press, he is one of the most grounded racers you will find. As I've found out, non-aussies just don't understand our attitudes particularly well. (I pity the poor Japanese Kawasaki mechanics that are going to have to deal with both Pitt and McCoy (another Camden local) in the same team!). Anyway... in the back of the shop there's one of his racebikes that is being put together for next season. At least that's what it looks like. I wasn't allowed to take any photos of it, but it looks awfully like it (side note, Chris was telling me of the problems Mat had turning up to one of the local FX rounds with his "test" bike for next year. Seems top-shelf Ohlins equipment is not permitted under Superbike rules).

My bike, ready to go

The next day rolls around and it's Chris turning up at 0715 to do a quick bit of work on the bike. When he'd been sorting the suspension back out, he put the forks back to stock settings. Not good, Every corner I went around it felt like it was trying to tuck the front under. With his help, we dropped them back through to the 12mm that they used to be - much better feel now.

Off we trundle down to Maccas for the regulation 0800 meet. In all, 5 bikes turn up and off we wander. The plan is to go through the back roads, pick a couple more up at Picton and then head down some more backroads to Marulan and then down Clyde Mountain from Braidwood.

Arriving at the King George IV, we're greeted by 3 bikes, not 2. Seems that Murray has managed to scarf a bike for the trip. Amazingly, he's found a rat bike that's more ratty than his own! What's more, we start to see the first signs of what could be a problem later on - the Ventura rack on the (brand new) O2 VFR is bending. The problem is a poor design with too thin a metal plate being used where it bolts into the passenger grab-bars. As a result, the flexing with the weight of the back is causing the mount to bend and the whole lot is decending on the rather expensive rear indicators. Not good! It's actually quite soft - you can bend it back to the right spot with very little effort.

Gathering at King George IV

The Perfect Pub for all occasions

Marulan truck stop, minus the tourists

The next stop is the Marulan truck stop. We get there via the usual backroads around Bargo and the Mount Gibralter lookout. These are the typical fun roads, tight twisty stuff, really bumpy and only Murray and I had been on them before so it shocked a few of the other riders. To placate them, there's a short 20km stretch of the Hume to do before we wander down the next road, but a short stop and refuel for the thirsty Vtd is needed. They laugh at you for having a limited range tank (ie 160km roughly, and less when on the gas) particularly when most there could down one stop to my three! Oh well, another excuse to have something to eat and drink - and get accosted by Japanese tourists. No kidding - we've all pulled out of the main fuel up area for a group shot here and a busload of Japanese tourists descends on us, camera's clicking away madly. A couple want shots sitting on our bikes, so we oblige Kev's bike (The Blue Meanie) for the purpose. Also, blue hair seems quite strange to them and they want to take frotos of me. Gaaaa. Oh well, better oblige.

Off we head down towards Braidwood. There's some big open roads here. So far, we'd been relatively sedate. The scenery is really nice, even for drought country (98% of the state is officially drought-striken right now) so I pull alongside Sharon, the current ride lead, make camera motions and then gun the throttle. Next 10km is spent with the throttle pinned in top. Uh, guys, that's wasn't your cue to follow me! I was trying to get some distance between myself and the group so that I could get off and take some nice photos. Didn't work as almost everyone followed me on the high-speed jaunt. All I managed to get was the photo on the right of Graeme and Julie on the 02 as they were taking a much more gentlemanly pace than most of us hoons.

Marulan truck stop, minus the tourists

We arrive at Braidwood, which is our intended next fueling stop for the thirsty Vtd. It's only about 120km from our last, so I'm not on the fumes stage, but since we know what's coming up is going to be some full throttle blasting, then I really should fill up as the next stop is 60km down the road. Pulling into the Ampol servo, we're greated with the owner telling us that the entire town is in a blackout and there's no idea when the power will come back on. Uh oh..... both Sharon and I are now worried - 80km of fun stuff ahead and very little juice to do it on. Bugger! Time for an exercise in smooth riding and constant positioning of the loud handle. We stop for a rest anyway as Graeme's rack is causing more problems. Various options were tried, but the one that ended up being used was to put the strap of the bag around the shoulders of Julie, his pillion and get her to lean forward a bit. Not the best, but cheaper than having to replace an entire tail light assembly. Also during this time, a number of guys were complaining about chewing up their rear tyre on the high-speed stuff. A quick look reveals the obvious problem - bikes set up for a rider are not set up for rider with a heavy bag on the back. So out come the tools and we bump up the rear preload a couple of clicks on most of the bikes there. This proves, later, to be exactly the problem and the guys comment on how well their bikes handle again.

Gaffa tape fixes everything

Oh, and of course, I needed repairs too. My Old Faithful Alpinestars are slowly disintegrating on me. These are the one's I've worn everywhere. The round-Oz trip, touring throughout the eastern states and daily commuter boots. They've had three soles on them now and I think it's about time they got tossed. Buuuut... They still had to last me for the this trip. A little bit of minor roadside repairs were needed before the run down the mountains. The previous jaunts at well over the double ton had caused the bottom of one to start to peel off.

The trip down Clyde Mountain was interesting and fun. This is the local milk run for the Canberra-based motorcyclists. It's about 60km of fast sweepers followed by 15km of steep downhill, with a lot of slow 20km/h marked downhill hairpins thrown in for good measure. We managed a fairly good run, but at this point I start to notice a number of things about the handling - the front is sitting too high, it bounces around like crazy and the rear is too soft for the extra weight of the bags and the front brakes suck severely. Also, the lack of front wheel grip is really starting to get to me. At this point I feel its a suspension setup issue, so I'll play with that first.

Arriving at Nelligen, which is at the 60km mark and the bottom of the big twisties, I wander off in search of the fuel pump. I found it. Looks like a prop out of a 1920's silent film. Deciding that I really don't need gummed up carbies, I opt to see how far I can stretch the reserve light and make a (slow-speed, petrol-conserving) run for Bateman's Bay along with Robin, a newish rider mounted on a CBR600F3. Hitting the town, we saunter down the first turn off where the fuel sign points. Bloody hell, where is this servo? We're about 8km along the road and I'm sure there's nothing left in the tank and finally we find one. 15.3L of Optimax later (16L tank) and neither of us have seen the rest of the group. Wonder where everyone went? Hmmm.

We back-track and find them at the intersection that we'd originally turned down. Surprisingly, Gordon's recently rebuilt silver VFR is surrounded with tools. This does not look good. Says there's some pulsing in the clutch and other rattly noises coming from the engine department. There's already a number of guys playing with the bike so Robin and I head off to the adjacent Maccas for a bite to eat. Returning later, we find all the bikes moved (sensibly) under some shade, and Gordon's bike doing the best impression of a Harley Davidson - see the pics below:

Murray telling Gordon - I think the broken bits were over there. Robin got his hair caught in the clutch basket

Typical reliable VFRs!

About an hour later, a local biker rides by and casts his eye over what is going on. "You know there's a Honda shop half a mile down the road?" Sheeeit. Thanks mate. So the VFR is hastily reassembled and the rider nurses the bike down the road. The mechanic has a bit of a look at it then. Lots of confusing things and various bits of engine are removed one at a time until the source of the problem is found - the inner bearing of the gearbox input shaft has completely disintegrated. It's a pull the engine and split the cases job to fix. Gordon's bike is taking no further part in this trip. Arrangements are hastily made with rearranging bags and pillions and extra setup to accomodate the now bike-less Gordon. He end's up riding Sharon's 800 (extra grunt for the pillion) and Sharon rides a pillion.

During the run down Clyde Mountain, I'd firmly made up my mind that these pads were going to kill me at some stage during the weekend. They had absolutely no feel to them at all. You couldn't tell whether they were on or not, when the pickup point was etc. The pads were a trial set courtesy of another of our racing links. It was a new brand to Oz (Goldsomethingorother) and was interested in our impression of the. Mine: They're deadly. I could not recommend them to anyone. My original intention was to pick up a replacement set at Cooma on the way through to Jindabyne, but since we'd stopped at a Honda shop, I made the appropriate enquiries. $110 later and a new set of EBC HHs were in my possesion. Things out the back were taking their time so I borrowed a couple of tools and fitted them on the spot. A number of laps of the carpark and hard braking, running with brakes on etc etc had them sufficiently bedded in to not be dangerous. A few others then jumped on the bike to feel it out and all decided that the EBC's were the way to go too and would fit some after the trip. More suspension twiddling too. One less turn of front preload, half turn extra rebound, that should sort out the front.

Back on the road again, we head off towards Bega. Mostly legal speeds through here as the cops are fairly notorious. However, as we came down the hill into Bega at somewhere well over illegal speeds (someone claimed it was 180km/h - dunno, was shitting myself at the time), I reckonised the familiar shape of a paddy wagon coming down the hill on the side road. Hauling on the (now much better) front brakes brought us some stern looks, but they didn't have radar so we're lucky. Not to mention the fact that we must have looked really guitly as the next turn was a service station and we all turned into it! More filling up was needed anyway, but just the timing made it look much worse.

The front felt more planted, but still very vague, but now the rear felt horrible. Every time I opened the throttle a bit or hit a tar snake it felt like it was sliding on me. Pulling up for petrol and Murray (who had been closely tagging me on this stretch) had this huge grin on his face. "You should see the huge black lines you were laying down in every corner! Fantastic!" Oh, that explains it all. A cursorary look at the rear tyre and sure enough, the tell-tale signs of spinning up the rear were quite evident on the outer couple of inches of tyre. Just completely polished. Basically the back wasn't coping with the power, so two extra turns of preload (for the bag weight), two more clicks of rebound damping and three fewer clicks of compression damping should be about right (got to love having Ohlins suspension!).

Fueled up, we head up Brown Mountain. This is basically the same as Clyde Mountain - 10km of tight (ie 25-35km/h marked) corners with some really nice tarmac and steep uphill climb - just the thing for a sportsbike rider. Murray heads off first and I valiently try to chase. Come to the first really tight corner and my brain starts "so, that's a tiiight corner, what am I supposed to do again?". I completely screw it up. Over on the wrong side of the road, I'm just completely out of practice with these really tight corners. Over in the US, the slowest corners they seem to have are marked at 30mph - 50km/h roughly. I'm completely out of practice on this really gnarly stuff. Unfortunately, there's someone behind me. Not sure who it is, but I think it's Gordon/Sharon and they're catching me! Oh the shame! It takes me probably 15 corners before I've started to get into the grove again. The rear suspension mods and dropping the front pressure down to 32psi have worked wonders. Now I can really drive the bike out of the corners and expect the rear to hook up properly. The front still feels really vague, but at least it is gripping the road now. Having the rear gripping properly helps as it allows me to reduce the load on the front and makes the issue less relevant. By half way up the hill I'm flying. I've caught Murray almost and the bike behind has disappeared. Much better. I can see Murray ahead of me now. Almost got him. Arrggghh! F@*&$^%, I've come flying around a 25km/h left hander only to find a full semi doing all of walking pace up the hill. Hard on the brakes I avoid running up the back of it. Very lucky I've fitted the new pads because no doubt the old ones I would have locked up or just failed to stop in time.

A corner or two later I get around the truck and head up the rest of the road. Now it starts to widen out as we hit the top of the range. Murray's in sight again, so I nail the throttle and then just tag him all the way to the next town. There we stop for everyone to catch up and then head on to Cooma. This bit is a blast. Open country with little wind and big sweepers. The throttle spends most of its time pinned to the stop. On one long straight I see about 265 on the speedo, but this bike is out due to gearing changes and then Murray drifts past me just as I start to back off a bit for the next "corner". A later check of the calibrated speed reveals my top speed of 218km/h and Murray claims he say 270 on his speedo, so probably got to 225 real. As each bike pulls up in Cooma there's a huge shit-eating grin on each rider. Everyone had been doing the same thing - 40 odd kilometres of just flat out blasting.

Deciding not to fill up, we head off towards Jindabyne. That was a mistake. About 5km out of Bellingen the reserve light comes on. No probs, I'll just fill up there. Arriving into town I'm greated by a sign that says 28km to Jindabyne and everything is shut. Darn country towns - it's only 7pm! I'd never gone more than 25km on reserve before, this is going to be a real test as there are more fantastic roads down this way. So I settle in for a slow cruise at the legal speed limit. Pity that, but it is starting to get dark and it's roo time so probably a wise thing to do anyway.

Running on fumes (33km!) I roll into Jindabyne and find our lodging for the weekend. We'd again picked Mad Mooses, same place as last year. Great little lodge.

Gordon giving everyone the evil eye while telling them to stay off his bed

Sharon cowering in fright. Maybe this backprotector will save me!

Kev takes a shot while Gordon watches. Yes, that is a genuine Kiss pinball machine behind him.

Murray tries to be a space man.

So after getting all set up and changed into somewhat normal clothing, we wander off to the town for some dinner. It's just after 9pm and almost everything is closing up. No dinner at the pub, none at Brumbies, but there seems to be a light on in the local italian joint. Wandering in, we're greeted by a girl whom Sharon and I promptly ask if they're still open and could deal with a group of 10. At this time, it's pretty obvious that she was just closing up, but she wandered opened the kitchen door and asked the cook if they could deal with us "Shit yeah!" was the overly enthusiastic reply. So in we went and had the restaurant to ourselves.

We had a great time there. Great tucker and the beer was wonderful too. After being in the US for so long it was wonderful to chuck back a couple of VBs. I can't find a decent beer anywhere here in the US - it's all light stuff - ales, pilsners and lagers. Can't find a bitter anywhere. Yum. Tastes great! After dinner, it's off back to the lodge. Couple of cartons of beer (Tooheys Old) and we assume the position - congregating around the pool table with beer in hand.

Somehow, Murray locates a hand-pumped soft rocket. This becomes the toy of the weekend as we try to shoot each other with the thing. Somewhere about now, its well after midnight and my brain decides to give in for the day and I head back downstairs to sleep.

On to Day 2