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Old 11-13-12, 21:10   #91
bluedaytona02
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Strap yourself in people...

SA, Golden Grove, Wednesday 14th November 2012


Distractions - by Kym Liebig I’m cruising when I spot him. I’ve been keeping my eyes open like I always do, just enjoying the smooth agility of my machine and revelling in the clear space around me, when suddenly there he is.

I recognise the shape immediately – a Heinkel He 111. He’s straggling. Up ahead I can see the rest of his flight, but this particular pilot has fallen behind the group and today he’s most definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time as I come up on him fast in my Spitfire, a well-used Mark 1. My higher cruising speed means I’ll simply overshoot the German if I don’t wash off speed fast. With the sun behind me, I hurriedly chop back the throttle and caress the controls of the Spit, a little kick of rudder here, a touch of aileron there. I know it’s a matter of seconds before I’m spotted and I have to get my positioning perfect quickly. I’m aware that I’m sweating as I light up the deflector sight and toggle the arming switch on my guns.

My stealthy and considered approach goes to pieces as the Heinkel’s dorsal gunner wakes up and opens fire. A single line of tracer arcs back towards my plane, but the gunner, no doubt caught by surprise, is hosing madly instead of taking steady aim. I’ve stuffed this up, and now my hand has been forced. All I can do is answer back – this isn’t an ambush anymore, it’s a gunfight. I thumb the gun button and all hell breaks loose as eight Brownings come to life, violently shaking the Spit’s airframe, hammering my head with unearthly noise and filling the cockpit with the sharp stink of burned cordite. Ahead, lines of tracer fill my field of view and converge on the Heinkel.

My reactive snapshot was on target through nothing but dumb luck. Big silver dollars splash over the German’s airframe as bullets punch through alloy, exposing shiny aluminium under the drab green camo. I feel a bit ill as the dorsal gunner’s little Perspex glasshouse disappears like a puff of confetti. Sparks dance, and shards of debris fly back at me. Bullets walk up the spine of the aircraft, and I come to my senses in time to jink to port and splash hits into one of the engines before shutting the guns down. My ears are ringing.

In the absence of the bone-jarring vibration I can now see clearly again. The Heinkel is holding steady altitude but losing speed, the back of the plane chewed up badly, with pieces still coming away here and there. As I watch, a thin line of smoke issues from the port engine and the prop starts to windmill. It’s over, and it’s time for me to get out of here before I’m jumped by someone myself. I bank over to starboard, throttle on and draw alongside the stricken plane.

Inside the sun-dulled dark green Commodore station wagon, the kid is still clambering all over the back seat and waving his nerf gun at me. The woman at the wheel yells up at the rear view mirror, then looks behind and reaches back over her seat, trying to whack the kid in the ear. The car lurches over into my lane and I open the throttle to accelerate cleanly away, leaving the Commodore/Heinkel behind me, opening up some safe space.

This is how I amuse myself when I have to ride in traffic.

It probably looks like daydreaming, but it isn’t. It’s just an overlay – one of several different alternate realities I place over what’s actually going on around me. It still has me checking my mirrors, looking over my shoulder, scanning well ahead and generally looking out for myself; it’s just more fun sometimes to be flying a Spitfire over France than it is to be punting my bike up North East Road on my way to a meeting. Besides, I’ve never flown a Spitfire. (I flew in a Mustang once, but they’d taken the guns out…where’s the fun in that?).

I don’t find my World War 2 Fighter Ace game distracting at all – quite the opposite. But there are plenty of things I do find distracting on a bike, things that I avoid whenever I can. The first of these is pillions.

Go on, get all angry at me and tell me what a joy it is to have a pillion on the back of the bike and to share the ride – I don’t care, I hate it. For me it ruins the handling of the bike, stuffs up braking distance, makes it less comfortable…I could go on. Yes, I could adapt my riding to all these factors, but I don’t want to. I ride bikes for their nimble handling and agile flickability. Even a lightweight, experienced pillion compromises that. Happily, most of the bikes I like best have ridiculous perches on the back that seem designed specifically to discourage pillions. Perfect! Unless the pillion hangers also act as exhaust mounts, the first things I remove when a bike comes into my possession are the pillion hangers and pegs.

What else do I find distracting on a bike? Noise! I wear earplugs on the bike every single time I ride. I can still hear traffic, horns, all that important stuff, but earplugs block out the relentless wind noise. I find that all too quickly, wind noise becomes ‘top of mind’ for me, and starts to mess up my concentration. Of course another thing that ruins concentration is fatigue, and noise quickly leads to fatigue.

On one of my trips from Adelaide to Phillip Island a few years ago, I’d forgotten to put my earplugs in before I left home. I became aware of this right away, but told myself that I’d just put them in at my first fuel stop. It didn’t work out that way. The day was windy and the going was tough, and less than an hour into my trip I was already feeling worn down by the wind and the buffeting. I really started to doubt my ability to complete the ride. If I was feeling this awful already, would I be able to ride for the rest of the day? Maybe I was coming down with something…perhaps I should stop, turn around, go home and relax? I came to my senses, pulled over, fitted my earplugs, and half an hour later I was smiling as I rode along. No more noise, and suddenly the going seemed very easy. I made it to Phillip Island by late afternoon.

Next on my list of Things I can’t Handle While Riding a Bike is…music. Sorry, can’t do it. I’ve tried it several times and it drives me nuts. In fact it drives me nuts on several levels. The first problem is perhaps the most obvious – I can’t hear what’s going on over the music. Even if I turn the music down a bit, I find that my brain is trying to trace the beat and the lyrics without missing anything, and thus it’s ‘multi-tasking’, trying to focus on the music, and so not concentrating one hundred percent on the riding situation. It’s as though someone is tapping me on the shoulder, trying to carry on a conversation I don’t really want to be a part of.

Music also gets in the way of me hearing the bike’s engine, and I’ve decided that I love listening to bike engines. The noises they make become a familiar tune, and the moment something’s not quite right I focus on it. Really good mechanics often mention the various noises that give away engine troubles…the buzz of a loose cam chain, the tapping of valve clearances that are running too tight, the dull knocking of a bottom end that’s on the way out. I like to be listening for all these things, and not even Radiohead or The Black Keys are going to take my attention away from it.

Finally, and perhaps uniquely to saddos such as me, there’s roadside advertising. I do this sort of stuff for a living, so it’s in my best professional interest to keep an eye out for who’s doing what, but I have to be very careful that it doesn’t become a real distraction. Big billboards are no problem – if they’ve been done right, you ought to be able to get the message in just a glance. Bus shelter advertising is a real killer. Often it’s designed to be read only by the people who are waiting for buses, but of course it’s generally angled so that drivers or riders can see it, too. While I’m not interested in what the fast food chains have to say, it can be tempting to spend a moment too long trying to decipher clever concepts for many other products. And let’s not forget the ads for products that never fail to sucker in we dumb males with their wily charms;

“Yeah, I’m okay honey. I ran up the back of a truck because I was distracted by one of those bus shelter ads. Yeah, the Triumph one. Really? They make lingerie too? I could have sworn it was…um…a bike ad. Hey look, the ambo guys need to load me up now, I’ll talk to you later…”

Pillions, noise, music, roadside advertising. These are the things that distract me. Of course all but one of these I can easily exclude from my riding altogether. And as for that last one, seeing as I very seldom commute these days, it seems less and less likely that I’ll wind up going to my grave simply because Bras’n’Things are having a sale. Ahem.

I’ve heard of other riders coming to grief from distractions including itchy glove seams, bees and wasps caught inside jacket collars, even the infamous ‘annoying stray hair that keeps blowing around inside my helmet and making my face and eyes itch.’ You know the one? No matter how many times you flip your visor to try to tuck the damn thing out of the way, it comes back to haunt you the moment you’re moving again!

Of course different seasons and conditions have their own special problems. How’s that hayfever coming along? And how about visor fogging in winter, or a nose that drips like a tap on cold mornings? Nasty.

What do you face on the rides you make? Got a funny near miss/crash/survival story that’s the result of a particularly unusual distraction? And what does it take to get your attention…a plane falling out of the sky, or just a member of your preferred sex bending over to tie a shoelace? Click on our Facebook page – let’s compare notes. The Motobuzz community is attracting more and more of biking’s real characters every day, and we love to hear what you have to say.

Yours in a fighter plane, or on a bike (depending on the day),
Kym
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Old 11-20-12, 18:32   #92
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OB's latest installment. There must be a book with all these articles by now...

SA, Golden Grove, Wednesday 21 November 2012

Retro turbo tropical madness - by Kym Liebig

Part 1:

I don’t get out a lot. I’m a homebody and I like it that way. My wife often jokes that had she not met me, I’d be living on my own in a Coober Pedy dugout, growing a beard and throwing empty cans at anyone who came near. That’s probably about right, too.

I have all the things I like near me at home. Most of all, I have my shed. I’m not interested in houses, or renovations, improvements, or even prudent measures taken to slow the onset of my house decaying and falling down. I live in a really nice house, but if it was left to me, it probably wouldn’t stay that way for long. I like my shed better. As a guy outnumbered three to one by women in his own home, my shed is a great place to escape to. I spend hours there, often improving or fixing things, working on my bikes and sometimes just staring at them, planning things. It keeps me happy and settled.

So you can perhaps imagine how far out of my comfort zone it takes me when I’m forced to travel and stay at a place that doesn’t have my shed. Or any shed. Or any bikes. Or, in short, anything at all of interest.

My in-laws are wonderful, warm people who possibly used to wonder a bit how this slightly strange, shambolic hairy tall man came to be entangled with their daughter. Since the entanglement has long since proved permanent, they possibly don’t wonder so much anymore these days. I think it took them a little while to figure me out, but to their credit they’ve been very accepting. No, more than that, they’ve been downright loving. They understand these days that when I walk out of the house without saying anything, it doesn’t mean I’m mad, it just means they have the TV turned up too loud. They understand that I’m not interested in their dog, or walking their dog, or any activity involving any dog, ever. They realise that I would prefer to stay at home alone, drink tea and read a book than go out for breakfast at a beachside café with a crowd of people I don’t know.

Unfortunately, no matter how finely-tuned they have become to who I am, none of this brings my shed any closer to me when my family visits them.

It usually takes me a day or two to stop twitching after we arrive, just due to the rigours of the aeroplane trip with the kids. Then, smiling grimly, I join in as many dog walks as I can tolerate, re-meet all of their friends that I’ve forgotten since last time, and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at restaurants for a few days straight. By about day four I’m starting to lapse into ‘caged animal’ mode. Can’t stay inside, the TV’s always on. If you switch it off, the first person who walks into the room will switch it back on. I go out into the garage, but there are just two cars there, no shed. Out the back there is decking, a canal and some yachts. Nope, no shed there, either. Out on the street there is suburbia, faceless shopping malls and swarms of tanned-up tourists wondering how to get to Aussie World, or Australia Zoo, or Aussie Zoo, or Australia World. Like a puppy being strangle-hugged by a well-meaning three year old, despite the fact that I’m shown all the love in the world, I start suffocating very quickly.

A few years ago I was on such a visit – and coming up for air for about the third time – when my brother-in-law stepped in. He is a salt-of-the-earth brother in-law. He loves his beer and his bikes, and what you see us what you get with John. We don’t quite share the same wavelength, but I genuinely like the guy. He was passing through one afternoon when he spotted me, possibly fidgeting, and locked onto the situation pretty quickly.

“You feelin’ a bit cooped up mate? Hey, we oughta take the Blade for a fang, eh?”

“Cheers, that’d be good, but I’m not much of a pillion.”

“Aw shit, yeah, ‘course…we’re gonna need another bike, eh?” He pondered this for a moment, rubbing his chin. I hoped that the rubbing would somehow conjure up a bike. The rubbing stopped. John’s face lit up.

“Hey, Old Nick’s got a heap of bikes! Lots of ‘em! An’ his back’s stuffed an’ he doesn’t even ride ‘em anymore! We oughta hit him up for a loaner, I reckon, eh?

I shrugged and smiled. John quickly explained that Old Nick was his fiancee’s Dad, and that he lived ‘down the coast a bit’ on a property with sheds filled full of bikes that he never used. Shortly thereafter John whipped out his mobile and entered into what appeared to be a fairly one-sided conversation with Old Nick. When he hung up, the news was good.

“Yeah, turns out he’s up for it. We’ll head down tomorrow and see what he’s got, eh?”

The next day we did indeed head down to Old Nick’s place in John’s ute, along a baffling series of freeways, tollways, exits and side roads, all, it seemed, taken at a minimum 140kph. Arriving at Nick’s secluded property, I dragged my fingernails out of the dashboard and we went to meet the man.

Old Nick, perhaps unsurprisingly, was a bit of a character, squat, portly, sporting a Santa Claus beard and well-worn overalls. Shuffling out to meet us, he shook my hand, and fielded my questions about the large overhead tanks that stood alongside one of his sheds. Turns out Nick makes his own biodiesel, running a couple of oldish European cars exclusively on used oil from fish and chip shops. Ten points for resourcefulness and sticking it to The Man, then. Nice.

The biodiesel introduction had distracted me for a couple minutes, but when we walked around the back of the house it really hit me. Old Nick was a little bit into his Honda CX’s. By ‘a little bit’, I mean that he had dozens of the things. CX’s, for the newcomers in the room, are Honda’s 500cc (and later, 650cc) ‘flying vee’ bikes, the company’s first ever vee twin, and something of an icon these days. Think of the CX as a shaft-drive, Japanese Moto Guzzi and you’re part way there. They were never a bike to set the world on fire performance-wise, but they sound great, go forever, and have a huge, worldwide cult following. And if the CX has a cult following, that would qualify Old Nick as something of a cult leader.

There were CX’s in bits with grass growing up through the frames. CX Customs under sheets in sheds. Sheds with CX500’s and CX650’s of all kinds in every condition from ‘beyond reasonable salvage’ to ‘showroom.’ Café CX’s and chopped CX’s. Surely this had to be one of the biggest collections in the country? I was gob smacked.

Old Nick rubbed his back, squinted a bit, then looked at John. “So what are you two guys after then, anyhow?”

A bit unhelpfully, John turned to me. “So…what do you want?”

I was embarrassed. Here’s a guy who’d never clapped eyes on me up until ten minutes ago, obviously a real enthusiast, offering me the pick of his bikes. It didn’t feel right. I was stumped, and just stood there, staring.

Nick cocked an eyebrow at me. “Well come on, mate, what do you fancy?”

“I’m really not fussy, it’s just so kind of you, I mean, if you’re offering, just anything at all is fine, honestly.”

Old Nick looked a bit frustrated, and turned back to John. “So what’ll you be riding then?”

John answered “Fireblade,” and when Old Nick gave him a blank look, added “a Honda. Thousand cee cees, late model sports bike. Pretty quick.”

“Righto then, follow me.” With this, Nick shuffled towards the farthest shed, pausing now and then to rub his back. It was obviously giving him a lot of trouble. He stopped at the big steel door and fiddled for an age with a tangle of keys, eventually unlocking the door and asking John and I to heave it open for him. Then Old Nick flicked a switch, and as banks of fluoro lights hummed and flickered to life, said simply “These are the riders. Take your pick.”

Now I know how Howard Carter felt peering into the hole on the door of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

There were about a dozen CX’s lined up. Some Euro 650’s, some neat early 500’s, a Custom … and a 650 Turbo. The man had a 650 Turbo! It sat there looking like a cast extra from Back to The Future, all massive white fairing and huge ‘turbo’ badges. Honda CX650 Turbo’s are rare, collectable bikes. You’re about as likely to stumble on a neat, rideable example as you are to meet Angelina Jolie at the vegetable display in Woollies. It just doesn’t happen.

<img style="border:0;min-height:auto;line-height:100%;outline:none;text-decoration:none;display:inline" height="313" width="417">
The CX650 Turbo. Badges on the exhaust? I guess it was the 80’s, after all…

“Of all of these, I reckon the Custom and the Turbo probably have okay batteries, so they should be good to go”, offered Nick. “What do you like?”

“Well I can’t ride the Turbo, obviously”, I blurted.

“Eh? Haven’t you ever ridden big bikes mate?” Nick seemed puzzled. John was snorting and chuckling.

“Well yeah, but it’s a Turbo. They’re as rare as hen’s teeth!”

Nick was already ambling over to the bike. “Well I guess you could ride the Custom if you really want to”, he said, not looking back.

I cast a quick glance at the brown, high-barred Custom. John was rolling his eyes and shaking his head frantically.“Um, no, actually the Turbo will be fine, thanks.”

The Turbo, as it turns out, wasn’t fine. The battery was in fact knackered. Old Nick declared it a shame, because he reckoned the Turbo was overdue for a run. Fearing that I’d find myself riding the brown Custard, I offered to buy Nick a battery for the Turbo. He looked at me as though I’d offered him the Crown Jewels. And next thing you know we were headed to the local auto accessories shop in a biodiesel powered French car that smelled of French fries. Funny how used cooking oil never really loses its smell. Sitting on the vinyl bench back seat, I crossed my fingers, hoping that the store would have a battery for the Turbo, but telling myself it was a long shot.
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Last edited by bluedaytona02; 11-20-12 at 18:41.
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Old 11-20-12, 18:32   #93
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Part 2:

Inside the store we stumbled upon a surprising good Parts Interpreter (that’s what they seem to call themselves nowadays…) who was actually able to dig up a battery for the old Honda. Amazing. We ambled back to Nick’s place in the Fish and Chip Diesel Frogmobile, and Nick sat in a folding chair nursing his dodgey back, watching intently as John and I fitted up the battery. His eyes had taken on a real gleam, and the smile creeping out from under his beard had grown a couple of sizes, too. I think it grew a couple more when I stood back and gave Nick the honour of firing up the beast. He thumbed the button and the Turbo fired up instantly, settling into a smooth, muted idle. Typical Honda. Nick beamed.

He was still beaming as John and I set off, John in his V8 ute and me on the Turbo. He slapped me on the back and said “have fun, bring it back some time tomorrow, eh?” Wow. I was about to ride a genuine piece of performance bike history.

Any thoughts I might have had about babying the Turbo and easing into my first ride went down the drain the moment we pulled onto the freeway entry ramp. John simply floored it, gunning the ute up to warp speed instantly, drawing away fast. Sitting on the Turbo in a borrowed vintage helmet and with only a vague idea of how to get back to the in-laws house, I had no choice but to open the taps, despite my instinct for mechanical sympathy. The result? A quite reasonable surge forwards, and an involuntary giggle as the Battlestar Galactica dash lit up with a red flashing ‘TURBO’ light show, just in case I was in any doubt about what was supplying the power. The big bike picked up speed quickly, to my relief with no real wobbles, shakes or deathly noises. There was suspension, after a fashion, and some sort of brakes, too, although not a lot of them. I stayed with John’s ute easily, and by the time we’d arrived back at the house, I’d broken about three different speed limits and started to bond with this funny, charming old bike.

John parked the ute, got out and asked “How was that?” I imagine that the grin on my ugly mug as I took off my lid said it all.

John set about getting his riding gear on while I set about putting together a Frankengear collection of ill-fitting borrowed jacket, boots, gloves and helmet. I felt perhaps a bit like Ned Kelly must have felt clomping about in his oversized armour. John fired up the Fireblade and we took off, stopping briefly for fuel before heading up into the hinterlands.

It came as no real surprise to find that John rode his Blade a lot like he drove his ute – fast, everywhere, with a complete disregard for speed limits. I like to think that I can ride reasonably well, but tailing his two year-old Honda while piloting its twenty-eight year old granddaddy (on twenty year old tyres…) definitely kept me on my toes. Like an axe murderer in a Santa suit, the CX Turbo comforted and cosseted with soft compliance, making me feel like everything was fine until I had to make a sudden, sharp move or quick stop. Then, in an instant, mortal fear loomed large and I became nothing more than a passenger.

It didn’t help that I didn’t know the roads at all, and that from the moment we had started the ride, John seemed to have altogether forgotten that I was a part of it. He simply charged off at breakneck speed, everywhere. My incentive to stay with him (against my better judgement) was simply that I had no idea where I was, and needed to keep him in sight. In contrast with the South Australian hills roads I was used to, in the hills of Queensland, villages seemed to pop up every few minutes. John didn’t notice them or slow down. Fearing for myself as well as the local pedestrians, I dutifully slowed for each small town, then wound open the taps hard as soon as the speed limits opened up again, charging along to try to keep the rapidly disappearing John in sight.

Despite the frantic nature of the ride and the unfamiliar roads, as time wore on I found myself really warming to the big old CX. The power was pretty good, torquey and strong. I doubt it had anything like the claimed 100 horses that the 1983 brochures would have you think, but it certainly wasn’t a slug. The handling was bouncy and pretty awful, the brakes were weedy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tyres were the real limiting factor. Not only were they skinny, but they were very old, and although they had plenty of tread, trying the ‘fingernail test’ on them would only result in a broken fingernail. Grip wasn’t great, and combined with the lack of anything like feedback from the Sleepmaker Disasterpedic suspension, bad things happened when liberties were taken with proper lean angles or late braking.

It was only when I forgot what I was riding - as my competitive streak came into play - that the big, tubby XC Turbo bit back. Watching John up ahead tip into an upcoming left hander, I braked late to make up some distance and locked the front wheel. There was a terrifying, scuffing screech and a big bounce as I let off the brakes to unlock, then cack-handedly locked the rear as well when I got back on the anchors. The bike slid like a fridge on an ice rink, I crossed over the double whites, held my breath and tipped in hard to get back on the right side of the road. Made it. Just.

After I’d checked my Ned Kelly suit for stray chocolate bullets I had a moment of clarity. I was riding a very rare bike – someone else’s bike – on roads I’d never seen, dressed in rubbish gear, chasing a litre bike. I did a bit of deep breathing, and for the rest of the ride I just cruised, no longer asking the bike to do things it wasn’t designed for. The bike seemed happy about that. I know I was. To my surprise, John noticed me falling behind now and then and slowed to wait for me.

On our way back from the hills we took the freeway, and at a relaxing (but still quite illegal) cruise I thought about what I could do with this bike. Strip off the Battlestar fairing. Carve off some weight. Make the thing into a lean performance bike with handling and brakes to match the engine. But of course this really was all just daydreaming. You don’t go modifying a modern classic, you leave it just like it is. And I knew Nick would never part with the CX Turbo, which was fine, as I didn’t have the cash at the time to make the guy an offer.

Who cares? I’d been blessed with the opportunity to ride an iconic bike that really made me smile, and I’d made it back alive. Just.

When we got home I parked the mighty CX, took an hour or two off just to get over my near-death experience, and then went out to the garage and cleaned that bike like it had never been cleaned before. If I was lucky enough to be taking it back to Nick in one piece, that one piece was going to be shining like the sun.

And then the key went missing.

For two long days the house was tense as Nick became less and less good-humoured about the delayed return of his baby, and everyone turned the place upside down trying to find the key. I had no idea how it could have gone missing. My elation at having made it back with the CX in one piece turned to frustration and then dread at what Nick might have to say if I could never find the one existing genuine Honda key for his rare-as-hen’s-teeth CX Turbo. Seems I’d rescued defeat from the jaws of victory.

On the third day my Mother-in-law rose again, made herself a cup of coffee, and remembered that she’d put the CX key in a little trinket box while ‘tidying up’ when John and I had returned. Needless to say the key was in the bike one minute later, and the bike was down the freeway and safely back to Nick in very short order. Nick was pretty decent about it. I won’t pretend he offered me a beer or anything, but he didn’t swear or abuse me. Maybe the fact I returned his bike so lovingly cleaned and polished helped just a little bit. All the same, I certainly haven’t had the hide to ask to borrow that legendary bike since that day. It’s probably safer sleeping under a sheet in Nick’s shed.

To this day, I still have a soft spot for Honda CX’s, and not just the turbos. I often think back to those days up in Queensland, how lucky I was just to ride the bike, my close call, and how fortunate I was not to have to return the bike in pieces to Nick in the back of John’s ute. Despite the ups and downs, the whole adventure still makes me smile, and yes, I still daydream of owning a CX650 Turbo. Part of the dream garage? You bet.

I’ve ridden a lot of very good bikes, but I don’t think I’ve ridden many truly ‘iconic’ ones. I’d like to think that perhaps maybe my much-missed Daytona 675 will qualify for icon status…and that by then I’ll own another one. But apart from the CX Turbo and my 675, I’m not sure anything else I’ve ridden qualifies for legend status.

How about what you’ve ridden? Or what you ride now?

If you’ve ever had an adventure on a motorcycling icon, or if you have any thoughts about which bikes qualify, join in the buzz on our Facebook page and tell us what you think. Riding is a real privilege, and riding special bikes is an unforgettable experience. Tell us about your dream ride, your dream bike, or your ultimate garage.
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Old 11-23-12, 20:11   #94
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If Bill Bryson were destined to become a motorcyclist, his mother would have named him Kym.
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Old 11-26-12, 02:24   #95
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And now link to my articles...
http://www.triumph675.net/forum/showthread.php?t=66996
Some blatant self promotion is well deserved as it is my first ever published article.

Maybe I can steal some of OB's followers!!!!!
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Old 11-28-12, 20:23   #96
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Kym obviously oils up his wife before putting her to bed, checks that all her nuts and bolts are tight before use, and when not in use, hangs her by little nails on a shadow board....


SA, Golden Grove, Thursday 29th November 2012

I treat my wife like a tool - by Kym Liebig

“So where do I hold it? Here? Is that good for you?”

“Yeah honey that’s good…now a bit lower. And push.”

“Like…this?”

“Whoah, hold on a minute, you don’t know your own strength!”

“Sorry, I got carried away.”

“Now gently, just a bit further, and if I can just get my hand around there…”

“There? Hey, I never knew you could do that!”

“Nor did I! Easy….easy…this could get messy. There it goes!”

“Nice. But yeah look, it got messy alright. And to think I trusted you.”

That’s how it went. Something like that, anyhow. I’d made a start on dismantling the forks on my race bike. I’d been quoted hundreds of dollars for a fix by a professional suspension guy, but that sort of money represents race entry fees. Not much point in having my forks fixed if I can’t afford to go racing as a result of spending too much on the fix.

So I’d done a heap of research on the interwebs, and even found a step-by-step guide to a rebuild on my specific model forks. I also found a lot of advice stating that I’d need a specialist Fork Spring Compressor at around $250, and a Fork Seal Driver at more or less $50. That’s frustrating. Pay a pro to do it, or do it yourself, but spend big on tools to get the job done. Tools that won’t often be used. Tools that will sit around a lot, gathering dust in my shed.

So I did more thinking, and I wound up out in my shed making up my own Fork Seal Compressor out of some old trailer brackets and a few choice pieces taken from my Big Old Bucket of Nuts and Bolts. It took me about 20 minutes to make up the tool. I was a bit disappointed that no welding was involved.

And that’s where my wife comes in.

Having made up the tool, I dismantled the forks as far as I could and fitted my Spring Compressor. The situation looked promising. The idea is to compress the fork spring enough to access a 17 millimetre hex on the damper rod (stay with me here, this is going somewhere….) and, once you can get a spanner onto the hex, you’re able to remove the fork cap and entirely dismantle the fork.

I arsed about for maybe 10 minutes before I realised that doing the job solo with my home made Spring Compressor would risk me breaking part of the forks. At a pinch, it could be done, but it didn’t seem worth the risk. It was 8 o’clock at night and my wife, I knew, would be back from her Personal Training session in an hour or so. I knew she’d be in a good mood after torturing her poor clients, too. In a rare moment of clarity and good sense, I decided to wait until my wife got home so that we could tackle the job together, and I’d have that ‘second set of hands’ to make things easier.

On arrival home, my wife was mildly bemused at the prospect, as she had planned to have a shower, put on her PJ’s and watch ‘her zombie show’ on TV. I told her the job would take 5 minutes (truth is I had no idea how long it would take…) and she agreed to give me a hand, just as long as I gave her a few minutes to have a shower and get into her PJ’s. I suggested the shower and PJ’s should perhaps follow after the shed work, but her mind was made up. So if she got fork oil on her Jimmy Jams it was just going to be too bad.

Shortly thereafter we were in the shed tackling the job, and you know what? It was easy. The only tiny hiccup occurred as I got a bit carried away and managed to get fork oil all over my wife’s hands when I whipped the spring out too quickly after removing the fork top, but everything else went smoothly. Muttering something about stinky fork oil and spidery sheds, my wife escaped back to the house and her TV zombies.

Surveying the stripped forks with all the parts carefully laid out, it occurred to me that the second set of hands had made very easy a job that everyone had told me I’d need expensive specialist tools to tackle. The problem here, the mental hurdle, if you like, is that too often we get it into our heads that without that special tool, we’re stuffed. We’ll never be able to do the job. When the fact is, we might not be able to do the job without help, but in many cases with a bit of common sense and a mate/wife/girlfriend/slightly puzzled passer by, we can get it done.

Often the designers of special tools assume that we will be working solo. Fair enough. And if you live and work at a research station in the Antarctic, that might be the case, but most of us, even miserable misanthropes such as myself, can usually enlist a helping hand when we really need to. And it makes all the difference, in more ways than one.

While I’m not convinced that my wife learned very much about forks when she helped me out, had one of my bike crazy mates been assisting, you can bet they would have. Importantly, they would have learned not only how the job is done, but that the job CAN be done, by an amateur mechanic. They would have left my little shed feeling more open-minded and confident.

Once that lesson is learned, the whole game changes. And that’s possibly the real benefit of working in the shed along with some mates – it opens minds and empowers people to try new things. Bloody hell, listen to me sounding all New Age!

Once upon a time it was a great Australian tradition to buy a carton of beer and some snags, make a few phone calls and invite a mate or two around to tackle a job. Of course it still happens with backyard stuff like paving and building patios, but I think it happens a whole lot less with things mechanical. The automotive and motorcycling specialists are working very hard to convince us – often in the name of safety – that there are no User Serviceable Parts inside. That we should leave it to the experts, and that any other way is irresponsible. I reckon that’s a bit insulting. I may be in a minority here, but I think that the average person is pretty smart and resourceful when faced with a problem and forced to concoct a solution. I don’t think you need to be ‘mechanically inclined’ to take on most bike maintenance jobs.

And why would you want to miss out on sharing the fun of it all?

Tackling repairs solo can be lonely and sometimes frustrating when things aren’t going right. But with a friend or friends by your side, all that changes. Not only do you have extra hands to help, you also have other points of view, different solutions being offered…more than one brain on the job, if you like. Then there’s laughing, piss-taking and practical jokes. And in the rare event that everything really, truly goes pear-shaped, there’s always the option of retreating to the esky and the barbecue to formulate a Plan B.

I think working on bikes can be every bit as social as it is technical.

About a year ago I was enlisted to help a mate set up his forks with some new performance parts. As a research junkie, I often feel like a bit of a fifth wheel when acting as ‘the helper’, but I went along for a laugh anyhow. I reckon I spend at least an hour researching a job for every half hour I spend twirling spanners, but of course in this case it wasn’t my bike, I’d had no time to trawl the internet, so I’d done no research at all into the situation. When things started being stripped down I found myself guessing at what to do next, and that’s never a good thing. The job didn’t quite go according to plan. It probably took three or four hours longer than it really should have. And while I’m not sure we could have referred to the result as a mechanical success at the end of the day, we had a lot of laughs along the way and it all helped bond our little group of racing mates even more closely. What was maybe an exercise in mechanical mediocrity was a huge social success. We laughed, wound each other up and had a great time. You don’t see that sort of thing referred to much in the features of specialist tools.

Of course there’s nothing to say that you need to be tackling a full engine rebuild to invite mates around for a Group Maintenance Afternoon. While I might draw the line at having friends around to help wash each others bikes, (sounds a bit too much like the premise for a dodgey video to me…) what’s wrong with getting together for basic stuff like oil changes, chain maintenance, sprocket replacements or whatever? Do something like this and I’ll bet that at least once, someone will share a tip or a point of view that adds a little bit to what you already know.

When I change the oil in my bike, I always use a new oil filter. To give the engine an easier time at start up, like a lot of people do I ‘prime’ the oil filter before I fit it, glugging some oil into the filter itself, then screwing it on and accepting the fact that I’ll spill some oil as I do so. Necessary mess…or so I thought. Years ago a mate dropped by my place by chance just as I was doing an oil and filter change, and watched as I went about it. I primed the filter and was about to screw it onto the bike when he stopped me, saying “Why don’t we go and have a cuppa, and then you can screw the filter on when we come back?” Lo and behold, on our return to the shed I went to fit the filter and no oil ran out – in the 10 minutes it had taken for us to enjoy a cup of tea, the oil had soaked down into the core of the filter, so it didn’t simply run out. One small tip that I’ve used ever since, saving mess and waste at every oil change. I love learning like that.

By now no doubt there are plenty of you wondering when I’m going to give up standing on my apple box and extolling the virtues of learning bike maintenance. I guess the best I can promise is that I won’t do it every week. Maybe next week I’ll write about a ride, or a special bike, perhaps even a ride on a bike to a special place. But don’t be just too surprised if I’m back in a few weeks with more thoughts on working on bikes, because no matter how long I look at it, I just keep coming up with more good reasons to get into it. And every manicured metrosexual I see stranded, calling Roadside Assist to come and help change a flat on his Prius just makes me want to take up the cause with even more zeal.

But if I do say so myself, I reckon that the argument I’ve put forward on these pages today is one of my favourites. Social mechanics; getting together to work on our bikes, learn about then and share the fun of it all. I should probably even do it more myself…it would save my wife getting her PJ’s all oily.

Are you still going it alone…or am I nuts, and is Group Maintenance the way you’ve always done it? Join in the buzz on the MotoBuzz Facebook page (here) and tell us how you do it.

We’re especially keen to hear any stories you have that may have arisen from time spent working on bikes with your mates. And you’ll get extra points if you can relate a tale of a lasting relationship that was sparked when your eyes met hers/his/its over a slowly draining sump one sultry evening in the shed of your dreams.

I’ll stop now before it gets all Mils and Boone…

Yours in the shed, but not in my pyjamas,
Kym
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Old 12-04-12, 18:49   #97
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The dusty tracks of the past - by Kym Liebig Sweating like a piggy, I decided to give it one more try. I balanced my left foot on an old coke crate that I’d placed to the left of the bike, got the kick starter wedged right under the heel of my right foot, and with one last effort leaped into the air and then drove down as hard as I could on the starter. The plain alloy lever, cranking against mighty compression, stopped mid-stroke, drove clean through the sole of my shoe and dug into my foot. I jumped, yelped and swore, almost overbalancing the bike. Not a sound from the KTM though. It sat, silent, mocking me.

Getting off the bike, I pulled my foot out of the shoe and the shoe stayed put, impaled on the kick start lever. I stood, hands in hips, huffing, puffing and wondering. Why was Big Katie not starting? It made no sense at all. After my last ride, I’d washed her, started her and warmed her up to make sure no water had worked its way into the electrics. She’d sat there banging and grumbling away, no problems, so I’d shut her down and put her away. So how was it that, having not moved since then, she wasn’t starting? Most often, bikes break down while they’re running. I couldn’t work out why it was that Big Katie had stopped starting while she was, well…stopped.

Big Katie is a nasty bike, and I love her for it. A KTM 380EXC, she is one of the reasons two strokes are relatively rare these days. Big Katie is uncompromising, bad tempered and hard to get along with. She demands fuel pre-mixed with exotic oil that costs $30 a litre. Today’s riders prefer powerful bikes with a smooth, linear power deliver. Katie’s power delivery is a terrifying all-or-nothing rush. Trying to ride her slowly is like taking an attack dog to a cat show – it’s just asking for trouble. If you are fit, focused and on your game – none of which I’ve ever simultaneously been – she will work with you, but she’ll bite hard if you’re half-hearted about how you approach her. She is a big, orange rocketship of a bike that reminds me what it’s like to have too much power on tap in just about every situation you can imagine, and it’s good to own at least one bike like that. Or at least it is when the bloody things start.

On this particular weekend I was due to drive to my younger brother’s place in the country, where he, my elder brother and I would all get together for a casual ride near his property. But I was baffled by Katie’s reluctance to start, and I was out of time, too. I had to get the bikes loaded. I checked for spark – nothing. Okay, then this had to come down to a corroded connector or something, surely? I decided that with all three brothers focused on the job back in the country, Big Katie would no doubt be up and running in no time, so I loaded the KTM, the kids’ pit bike, some tools and riding gear, and we set off that evening.

My younger brother owns a property on the fringes of the small town where I grew up. The whole place is alive with memories for me, mostly of back roads, tracks and access lanes that I used to sneak along on my dirt bike as a lad, before I got my licence. Way back then if you were willing to be a bit open-minded about your interpretation of what constituted a road, you could get around quite a bit. Today of course I can do all that legally, but I still enjoy exploring those little tracks now and then, re-living the past and seeing what has changed through the years.

Upon our arrival we settled in for the evening’s Three Brothers catch-up session, and the next morning, after the traditional huge cooked breakfast, we set off into the shed to take a look at Big Katie, my older brother adopting his usual abusive role. “Are you sure you switched the fuel on, you useless hippy? Is the plug connected? We’ll probably get the bloody thing started first kick now that we actually have a couple of decent brains on the job.” Ah, brotherly love.

But no such luck. Big Katie is very easy to strip, and in next to no time she was naked, revealing her very simple electrics…which were dead. Nothing would elicit a spark from her. Nothing. We checked, connections, checked earths, checked everything. Finally we checked the internet, too, and found that now and then, out of the blue, the ignition capacitor on 380EXC’s simply gives up the ghost for no reason. So it looked like Big Katie would be going nowhere on this particular weekend after all.

I was pretty philosophical. After all, I’m happy to simply relax in the country, riding or not. The kids set forth on the pit bike and were having a ball. My two brothers – the elder on his KTM525EXC and the younger on his worked Yamaha WR450F – ripped and rorted around from time to time, nothing too serious. We ate, had a few drinks now and then, and generally eased through a perfect, warm day, just enjoying ourselves with no real agenda. I even had a few rides on the pit bike, which always makes me smile, although its tiny wheels mean that it’s wildly unstable at the surprising speed its little 140cc mill will wind it up to. But of course a tiny comedy dirt bike is only fun for so long when you’re a bloke who is well over six feet tall. After awhile it starts to become painfully reminiscent of circus clowns hunched over miniature bicycles.

Mid afternoon rolled around and I found myself half asleep on a comfy chair out on the patio. My older brother had adopted a similar, lazy attitude. My younger brother emerged from the shed, strolled across to where we were relaxing and suggested “Why don’t you two lazy buggers do some riding? One of you can take the WRF if you want, I don’t care. The battery seems pretty good, it’s started on the button all day today.”

The thought of an easy starting bike alone was enough to rouse me from my dozing. I shuffled over to the WRF for a bit of a look, and rustled up a helmet, goggles, gloves and boots…the bare minimum of gear. By the time I had my act together, my elder brother was sitting on his KTM ready to go, the pipe on the orange bike doff-doffing in a muted way. I punched the button on the WRF and was welcomed by a far more fruity bark from the aftermarket exhaust. Nice! The worked suspension felt good and taught, too, just how I like it.

“Where you wanna go?” I yelled?

My bro just shrugged and plonked past me and down the driveway. Looked like we’d be making it up as we went along, which was fine with me.

We left the property and cut across the access track to a disused quarry, all ditches and mullock heaps, holes and scrapings. The ditches, hidden by weeds, made the going interesting and kept me on my toes after months away from dirt riding. It took me a couple minutes just to stop being lazy, get off the seat and start standing on the pegs. We two brothers were both just feeling our way, waiting for the familiarity to come back. I found myself testing my skills and the bike, too. How easy will it wheelie? What will it take to break out the back end? Lofting little wheelies off dirt heaps and sliding through tight corners on the gas, I started to get the hang of things. Dirt techniques buried under years of road riding started to come back a little at a time. Inside five minutes the bike no longer felt tall and ungainly. Soon after, I was able to gently powerslide the thing predictably without any fear of lowsiding it. Make no mistake, I was still very rusty, but I was starting to smile. This was fun.

As the pace picked up a bit the quarry started to feel small. You run out of room pretty fast when you go up through the gears on an open class dirt bike. I followed as big bro headed out from the quarry, and as we carefully exited onto the dirt access track, we did what any two brothers on dirt bikes would do…we nailed it and drag-raced along the track like a pair of grinning fools, the bikes barking in unison. I expected the KTM to walk away from the WRF, but as we fed in the gears on clutchless upshifts the bikes matched each other, and we were side-by-side until we both had to button off as we ran out of track, locking the rear brakes and snake-sliding the rear tyres of the bikes like we did back when we were kids on mini bikes.

I think that was the moment the ride really took off.

We cut across the highway and rode up the access road that runs past the little country airport, experimenting as we did with the joy of wheelies. We’d both lost a lot of the old ‘touch’, but managed to loft a few reasonable monos up into third gear or so. Like sliding, or any dirt biking skill, the feel for the ‘balance point’ comes back soon enough, even if age tempers it with more caution than was once there.

At the end of the track we skipped across the bitumen and down a dirt track that led to the riverfront, first winding down a corkscrew hill then cutting onto the sandy track that parallels the Murray. It felt weird but good. We were licensed riders on registered bikes, but we were using all the old sneaky tracks that we did as kids. Somehow it seemed more fun than just using the roads like everyone else does.

The riverfront was empty, and so we tore around practising wheelies and faster slides. There were also reality checks to be done. As teenagers we’d both backed our wheels against the river mud and charged at the rocky cliff/hill that rises sharply up from the river about 100 metres back from the water’s edge. Way back then, on far inferior old bikes, we both used to make it up to the very top, powered by a heady mix of bravado and momentum. But on this day we stared at the climb in disbelief that we’d ever done it at all. We even rode up to the base of the climb and looked up the narrow, tree-lined track that rose in front of us. Surely no-one without climbing ropes would ever attempt that? It was as though we were looking at it with entirely different eyes, and brains whose self-preservation circuits were far more active than they once had been. We shook our heads and rode off.

The access road that leads down to the sandy island further up the river was the same as it had always been…dusty and strewn all over with marble-sized round rocks. In short, a slide-fest. We managed to ignore the big roadside eucalypts that lined the track, threading the two bikes along at a good speed, plumes of dust rising behind us. We were both starting to slide the bikes with our feet on the pegs now, gaining more confidence by the minute.

The sandy island was a revelation. Drifts that had swallowed and bogged the bikes we rode as kids posed no obstacle at all now on the open-classers. Deep, dry creeks with steep exits we’d had to tackle in three or four attempts back then we now shot out of with a twist of the throttle, getting nice air as we hit the top. Big, easy power and compliant, modern suspension made the going easy and fun. Our Sahara had become merely a sandpit. The bikes compensated for everything except our waning stamina.

It was the WRF that woke us up and brought us both back to reality when it spluttered and ran onto reserve. In the silence that followed, we both realised that our ten-minute ride had stretched out into something closer to an hour and a half, we were actually a fair old hike from home, and our better halves might well be wondering where we were and what shape we were in. With the WRF re-started, we reluctantly wound our way back up the hill and up to the homestead.

There were dirty grins as we doffed our lids back at the house, and wryly raised eyebrows from our wives. But it was okay, our younger sibling had us covered. “We were sitting out the back here when I heard the two of you cut out of the quarry, nail it and drag race down the access track and I knew it was on, I knew you weren’t coming back any time soon. And then we heard you both practising wheelies up past the airport, I just said to the girls that I reckoned you might be away for awhile, you’d found those young stupid lads inside you again.”

And of course he was right. Having grown up riding in the dirt, nothing brings the stupid young lad out in me again like a good dirt ride. And it usually starts with a dash of sibling rivalry, just like it did back then. I’m not very good at it any more and I’m certainly nowhere near as brave as I once was, but I enjoy it just as much as I did. Somehow riding in the dirt is just fundamentally different to any other riding. All those things that happen on the edge of control when you’re road riding – sliding, wheelying, flying through the air – are just part and parcel of a ride in the dirt. A lot of it is about acting like a kid, but the great thing is that the more you act like a kid, the more you refine the skills that help make you a capable rider. Wheelying helps you get over logs and obstacles. Sliding is a key part of fast cornering. The fun stuff is the stuff you need to ride well. To a point, just messing around makes you a better rider.

While I really enjoyed my ride that day, I don’t get out and ride Big Katie anywhere near as much as I’d really like to these days. And not just because she won’t start. Mostly because I don’t live in a small country town anymore, and I don’t get to visit small country towns often enough. Times have changed. Where city dwellers could once leave home, ride on the road for ten minutes and then turn off down a fire trail or track, now there are gates, fences and ‘no dirt biking’ signs. The spontaneity has all but gone, and if you are an urban resident who wants to ride in the dirt, often trailers, official venues and organised events are the only options left. Ah, the irony of it all. Urbanisation in Australia means that although we live in a country with vast areas of open space, for most of us finding a convenient patch of dirt to (legally) ride on is today quite a challenge.

I made the switch to road riding and racing years ago, but I haven’t defected from the dirt camp altogether. The proof is there in Big Katie and my little pit bike. They don’t get out often, but selling them would just seem too much like an admission that I’d abandoned all hope of ever returning to my roots in the dirt. I’ll keep both, and as the kids grow up and I get more time, I know I’ll ride in the dirt more.

Are you still doing it in the dirt?
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The dusty tracks of the past - by Kym Liebig Sweating like a piggy, I decided to give it one more try. I balanced my left foot on an old coke crate that I’d placed to the left of the bike, got the kick starter wedged right under the heel of my right foot, and with one last effort leaped into the air and then drove down as hard as I could on the starter. The plain alloy lever, cranking against mighty compression, stopped mid-stroke, drove clean through the sole of my shoe and dug into my foot. I jumped, yelped and swore, almost overbalancing the bike. Not a sound from the KTM though. It sat, silent, mocking me.

Getting off the bike, I pulled my foot out of the shoe and the shoe stayed put, impaled on the kick start lever. I stood, hands in hips, huffing, puffing and wondering. Why was Big Katie not starting? It made no sense at all. After my last ride, I’d washed her, started her and warmed her up to make sure no water had worked its way into the electrics. She’d sat there banging and grumbling away, no problems, so I’d shut her down and put her away. So how was it that, having not moved since then, she wasn’t starting? Most often, bikes break down while they’re running. I couldn’t work out why it was that Big Katie had stopped starting while she was, well…stopped.

Big Katie is a nasty bike, and I love her for it. A KTM 380EXC, she is one of the reasons two strokes are relatively rare these days. Big Katie is uncompromising, bad tempered and hard to get along with. She demands fuel pre-mixed with exotic oil that costs $30 a litre. Today’s riders prefer powerful bikes with a smooth, linear power deliver. Katie’s power delivery is a terrifying all-or-nothing rush. Trying to ride her slowly is like taking an attack dog to a cat show – it’s just asking for trouble. If you are fit, focused and on your game – none of which I’ve ever simultaneously been – she will work with you, but she’ll bite hard if you’re half-hearted about how you approach her. She is a big, orange rocketship of a bike that reminds me what it’s like to have too much power on tap in just about every situation you can imagine, and it’s good to own at least one bike like that. Or at least it is when the bloody things start.

On this particular weekend I was due to drive to my younger brother’s place in the country, where he, my elder brother and I would all get together for a casual ride near his property. But I was baffled by Katie’s reluctance to start, and I was out of time, too. I had to get the bikes loaded. I checked for spark – nothing. Okay, then this had to come down to a corroded connector or something, surely? I decided that with all three brothers focused on the job back in the country, Big Katie would no doubt be up and running in no time, so I loaded the KTM, the kids’ pit bike, some tools and riding gear, and we set off that evening.

My younger brother owns a property on the fringes of the small town where I grew up. The whole place is alive with memories for me, mostly of back roads, tracks and access lanes that I used to sneak along on my dirt bike as a lad, before I got my licence. Way back then if you were willing to be a bit open-minded about your interpretation of what constituted a road, you could get around quite a bit. Today of course I can do all that legally, but I still enjoy exploring those little tracks now and then, re-living the past and seeing what has changed through the years.

Upon our arrival we settled in for the evening’s Three Brothers catch-up session, and the next morning, after the traditional huge cooked breakfast, we set off into the shed to take a look at Big Katie, my older brother adopting his usual abusive role. “Are you sure you switched the fuel on, you useless hippy? Is the plug connected? We’ll probably get the bloody thing started first kick now that we actually have a couple of decent brains on the job.” Ah, brotherly love.

But no such luck. Big Katie is very easy to strip, and in next to no time she was naked, revealing her very simple electrics…which were dead. Nothing would elicit a spark from her. Nothing. We checked, connections, checked earths, checked everything. Finally we checked the internet, too, and found that now and then, out of the blue, the ignition capacitor on 380EXC’s simply gives up the ghost for no reason. So it looked like Big Katie would be going nowhere on this particular weekend after all.

I was pretty philosophical. After all, I’m happy to simply relax in the country, riding or not. The kids set forth on the pit bike and were having a ball. My two brothers – the elder on his KTM525EXC and the younger on his worked Yamaha WR450F – ripped and rorted around from time to time, nothing too serious. We ate, had a few drinks now and then, and generally eased through a perfect, warm day, just enjoying ourselves with no real agenda. I even had a few rides on the pit bike, which always makes me smile, although its tiny wheels mean that it’s wildly unstable at the surprising speed its little 140cc mill will wind it up to. But of course a tiny comedy dirt bike is only fun for so long when you’re a bloke who is well over six feet tall. After awhile it starts to become painfully reminiscent of circus clowns hunched over miniature bicycles.

Mid afternoon rolled around and I found myself half asleep on a comfy chair out on the patio. My older brother had adopted a similar, lazy attitude. My younger brother emerged from the shed, strolled across to where we were relaxing and suggested “Why don’t you two lazy buggers do some riding? One of you can take the WRF if you want, I don’t care. The battery seems pretty good, it’s started on the button all day today.”

The thought of an easy starting bike alone was enough to rouse me from my dozing. I shuffled over to the WRF for a bit of a look, and rustled up a helmet, goggles, gloves and boots…the bare minimum of gear. By the time I had my act together, my elder brother was sitting on his KTM ready to go, the pipe on the orange bike doff-doffing in a muted way. I punched the button on the WRF and was welcomed by a far more fruity bark from the aftermarket exhaust. Nice! The worked suspension felt good and taught, too, just how I like it.

“Where you wanna go?” I yelled?

My bro just shrugged and plonked past me and down the driveway. Looked like we’d be making it up as we went along, which was fine with me.

We left the property and cut across the access track to a disused quarry, all ditches and mullock heaps, holes and scrapings. The ditches, hidden by weeds, made the going interesting and kept me on my toes after months away from dirt riding. It took me a couple minutes just to stop being lazy, get off the seat and start standing on the pegs. We two brothers were both just feeling our way, waiting for the familiarity to come back. I found myself testing my skills and the bike, too. How easy will it wheelie? What will it take to break out the back end? Lofting little wheelies off dirt heaps and sliding through tight corners on the gas, I started to get the hang of things. Dirt techniques buried under years of road riding started to come back a little at a time. Inside five minutes the bike no longer felt tall and ungainly. Soon after, I was able to gently powerslide the thing predictably without any fear of lowsiding it. Make no mistake, I was still very rusty, but I was starting to smile. This was fun.

As the pace picked up a bit the quarry started to feel small. You run out of room pretty fast when you go up through the gears on an open class dirt bike. I followed as big bro headed out from the quarry, and as we carefully exited onto the dirt access track, we did what any two brothers on dirt bikes would do…we nailed it and drag-raced along the track like a pair of grinning fools, the bikes barking in unison. I expected the KTM to walk away from the WRF, but as we fed in the gears on clutchless upshifts the bikes matched each other, and we were side-by-side until we both had to button off as we ran out of track, locking the rear brakes and snake-sliding the rear tyres of the bikes like we did back when we were kids on mini bikes.

I think that was the moment the ride really took off.

We cut across the highway and rode up the access road that runs past the little country airport, experimenting as we did with the joy of wheelies. We’d both lost a lot of the old ‘touch’, but managed to loft a few reasonable monos up into third gear or so. Like sliding, or any dirt biking skill, the feel for the ‘balance point’ comes back soon enough, even if age tempers it with more caution than was once there.

At the end of the track we skipped across the bitumen and down a dirt track that led to the riverfront, first winding down a corkscrew hill then cutting onto the sandy track that parallels the Murray. It felt weird but good. We were licensed riders on registered bikes, but we were using all the old sneaky tracks that we did as kids. Somehow it seemed more fun than just using the roads like everyone else does.

The riverfront was empty, and so we tore around practising wheelies and faster slides. There were also reality checks to be done. As teenagers we’d both backed our wheels against the river mud and charged at the rocky cliff/hill that rises sharply up from the river about 100 metres back from the water’s edge. Way back then, on far inferior old bikes, we both used to make it up to the very top, powered by a heady mix of bravado and momentum. But on this day we stared at the climb in disbelief that we’d ever done it at all. We even rode up to the base of the climb and looked up the narrow, tree-lined track that rose in front of us. Surely no-one without climbing ropes would ever attempt that? It was as though we were looking at it with entirely different eyes, and brains whose self-preservation circuits were far more active than they once had been. We shook our heads and rode off.

The access road that leads down to the sandy island further up the river was the same as it had always been…dusty and strewn all over with marble-sized round rocks. In short, a slide-fest. We managed to ignore the big roadside eucalypts that lined the track, threading the two bikes along at a good speed, plumes of dust rising behind us. We were both starting to slide the bikes with our feet on the pegs now, gaining more confidence by the minute.

The sandy island was a revelation. Drifts that had swallowed and bogged the bikes we rode as kids posed no obstacle at all now on the open-classers. Deep, dry creeks with steep exits we’d had to tackle in three or four attempts back then we now shot out of with a twist of the throttle, getting nice air as we hit the top. Big, easy power and compliant, modern suspension made the going easy and fun. Our Sahara had become merely a sandpit. The bikes compensated for everything except our waning stamina.

It was the WRF that woke us up and brought us both back to reality when it spluttered and ran onto reserve. In the silence that followed, we both realised that our ten-minute ride had stretched out into something closer to an hour and a half, we were actually a fair old hike from home, and our better halves might well be wondering where we were and what shape we were in. With the WRF re-started, we reluctantly wound our way back up the hill and up to the homestead.

There were dirty grins as we doffed our lids back at the house, and wryly raised eyebrows from our wives. But it was okay, our younger sibling had us covered. “We were sitting out the back here when I heard the two of you cut out of the quarry, nail it and drag race down the access track and I knew it was on, I knew you weren’t coming back any time soon. And then we heard you both practising wheelies up past the airport, I just said to the girls that I reckoned you might be away for awhile, you’d found those young stupid lads inside you again.”

And of course he was right. Having grown up riding in the dirt, nothing brings the stupid young lad out in me again like a good dirt ride. And it usually starts with a dash of sibling rivalry, just like it did back then. I’m not very good at it any more and I’m certainly nowhere near as brave as I once was, but I enjoy it just as much as I did. Somehow riding in the dirt is just fundamentally different to any other riding. All those things that happen on the edge of control when you’re road riding – sliding, wheelying, flying through the air – are just part and parcel of a ride in the dirt. A lot of it is about acting like a kid, but the great thing is that the more you act like a kid, the more you refine the skills that help make you a capable rider. Wheelying helps you get over logs and obstacles. Sliding is a key part of fast cornering. The fun stuff is the stuff you need to ride well. To a point, just messing around makes you a better rider.

While I really enjoyed my ride that day, I don’t get out and ride Big Katie anywhere near as much as I’d really like to these days. And not just because she won’t start. Mostly because I don’t live in a small country town anymore, and I don’t get to visit small country towns often enough. Times have changed. Where city dwellers could once leave home, ride on the road for ten minutes and then turn off down a fire trail or track, now there are gates, fences and ‘no dirt biking’ signs. The spontaneity has all but gone, and if you are an urban resident who wants to ride in the dirt, often trailers, official venues and organised events are the only options left. Ah, the irony of it all. Urbanisation in Australia means that although we live in a country with vast areas of open space, for most of us finding a convenient patch of dirt to (legally) ride on is today quite a challenge.

I made the switch to road riding and racing years ago, but I haven’t defected from the dirt camp altogether. The proof is there in Big Katie and my little pit bike. They don’t get out often, but selling them would just seem too much like an admission that I’d abandoned all hope of ever returning to my roots in the dirt. I’ll keep both, and as the kids grow up and I get more time, I know I’ll ride in the dirt more.

Are you still doing it in the dirt?
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Old 12-11-12, 20:41   #99
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SA, Golden Grove, Thursday 6th September 2012
Give the people what they want - by Kym Liebig

Not long ago Jesper the Great got onto Facebook and asked the MotoBuzz masses what they’d like us to write about. I kinda like that…sometimes I sit wondering for ages what I should write about, and let’s face it, left to my own devices I’ll always focus on things like sheds, maintenance or racing, so it’s nice to have some guidance and a chance to perhaps serve up some variety. But it’s safe to say that today’s offerings from my Macbook might wind up being something of a mixed bag, as the MotoBuzz readers’ requests were many and varied, ranging from the comical to the impossible, to the perfectly reasonable.

One bright spark asked that we write about how we were giving him $10,000 cash. I had put the money in the post pack (small used notes) and already sealed it when it occurred to me that no, the responsible thing would be to let Kody Josh Fraser earn the money himself and grow through the experience. So the cash went back under the bed, next to all my old copies of Performance Bikes magazine. Sorry Kody.

Jason Wilkins wanted a piece informing him that Santa is bringing him a Samsung PC tablet for Christmas, but I can’t possibly do that, as any right-minded person would of course be hoping that he instead receives an iPad.

Another genius asked that we write about boobs. All I can say is that if you’re familiar with the interwebs and you’ve not yet managed to source enough of that kind of thing already, you must be using the wrong browser or something. Besides, I’ve not written about boobs before, and who needs MotoBuzz to take on that sort of tone, after all? Next question, please.

John Dorrestyn asked for words advising how to ride a better lap of Mallala. Well John, I’d love to have a go, but despite the fact I ride Mallala all the time, there are dozens and in fact possibly hundreds of people better placed to advise on how to cut a hot lap than I am. In fact after racing there throughout last weekend, I’m pretty sure the guy clearing out the bins in the pit sheds could do better. But every race day is a school day, I guess, so I’m philosophical about it.

Silky Slim (great name…) asked for a good route to Canberra with twisties, begging the question ‘is there such thing as a good route without twisties?’ I think I’ll punt that one over to The Perpetual Motorcyclist, because I’m pretty sure he’ll know roads in that area like the back of his red-and-blue tattooed hand. Stand by, Silky, your wishes may yet be granted.

Eventually it had to happen, and it was Martin Dillich who played right into my goal zone with a request for ‘some care and polish tips for those of us with bikes over 10 years old.’ Bingo! So come on down, Martin, you are special guest on today’s MotoBuzz Request Line! Are you sitting comfortably?

Care and polish tips for bikes over 10 years old – a brief summary.

Buying
Okay, let’s first assume you may not yet even have the bike, and might be considering one that is around 10 years old. In fact, for the sake of the argument, let’s open things up a bit and assume we’re looking at bikes somewhere between 10 and 15 years old. Now think of the model you want and hit up Google Images for, say, the 2002 model of the bike you’re after. Wow. Looks pretty good to me! What I’m getting at here is that a 10 year-old bike is not necessarily an old crapper. We get conditioned to believe that the very latest is far superior to stuff that’s even just a few years old, but it’s simply not true. Australia’s mild weather is kind to bikes. Get yourself a cared for, low kay example of what you’re after, and you will indeed be getting a lot of bike for your cash, often something that compares pretty well to what’s out there today. See how smart Martin is?

Operation renovation
Despite the fact that a 10 to 15 year-old bike might not look very old and might not have a zillion kays on the clocks, one of the most frustrating experiences in biking is to throw a leg over a bike of this vintage, ride it for awhile, and simply feel that something isn’t right. Something hard to define. There may be no disasters or blatantly obvious problems, but the bike just doesn’t feel new and fresh. But providing the engine is healthy, making a bike with a decade under its belt feel tight and new again isn’t rocket science at all, it’s just a matter of investing a bit of time and cash on some basics.

Bearings – many bikes don’t even have bearings properly lubed when delivered new. Now consider that most owners pay these points scant attention. How is a bike meant to feel silky and supple when every bearing and pivot is groaning its way through a miserly smear of grease that may have been applied in Japan years ago and not touched since? From the headstock to the wheel bearings and suspension pivots, inspect and lube or replace the lot. Do some Googling for guide pics or YouTube videos – none of this stuff is hard. For instance, just about anyone can change a set of wheel bearings in under an hour with nothing but a hammer, a big screwdriver or length of steel tube, and an hour’s use of the family freezer to shrink the new bearings for an easier fit. Even if you just do this job one bearing set at a time over a few weekends, the reward is huge. Everything from your steering to your suspension action will benefit.

Adjust and align – bikes of any age with poorly aligned wheels handle like pigs on stilts. Get online – yes, again – and search out the ‘string line method’ of motorcycle wheel alignment. Don’t trust the marks on your bike’s swingarm when you adjust your chain - they lie like pollies at a press conference. This is a free adjustment that can make a world of difference to your bike’s handling.

Fork out – if your older steed has conventional forks, rejoice! These are easy to work on…yet usually neglected. If you have a front stand that lifts the bike up via a pin in the lower yoke, pat yourself on the back and prop your bike up. Alternatively, find a safe way to suspend your bike – via tie downs from the rafters, or props under the footpegs and sump, perhaps. It’s always safest to enlist the help of a mate. Now remove your front wheel and forks, carefully remove the fork tops with a socket, (they’ll be under spring pressure) then, holding the innards in with an oily digit, upend the disgusting filthy slops into a container of your choice. Let the forks drain overnight so that every sparkly trace of metallic gunk has gone. While this is going on, get online and find the right volume and weight of fork fluid to replace it with. Now reverse the above process, reassemble and congratulate yourself on how smooth your fork action is, and how well you managed to clean up all the oil you spilled on the garage floor.

Shock treatment – bike shocks are built to a price. The fluid they contain is often rubbish, yet it works almost as hard as engine oil, and most riders don’t even see shocks as a part requiring maintenance. If your shock has 20,000 or more kays on it, it’s probably very tired. Get a quote from a suspension specialist to have the fluid changed and the unit re-gassed. Feeling flush? Have a spring matched to your weight fitted at the same time. Money well spent! Alternatively, research how interchangeable newer shocks from later models might be for your bike. For instance, late model GSXR shocks often bolt straight into Suzuki SV650’s, giving fresher action and better adjustability to boot.

Somebody stop me – brakes don’t age very gracefully, and they are another system on bikes that some owners seem to believe needs no maintenance at all. If the fluid in your reservoirs looks like sewage, start with a full bleed and flush – a pretty simple task. If you’re still faced with a soft, spongey lever, the next step might be to replace the standard rubber hoses – which deteriorate after three or four years – with braided stainless items, which are available at a reasonable cost for a staggering variety of bikes. When replacing brake lines, start by checking and photographing the routing of the originals, then remove the lines starting at the lowest part of the system, with a drain container and plenty of rags handy. Be sure to clean up any spills right away as brake fluid is corrosive, and always use new crush washers when you fit new lines. Once this is done, if your brakes remain below par, you could consider a caliper rebuild, which is simpler than you might think. Mind you, if you lack confidence, never take chances with brake work – it’s not worth risking your life to save a buck.

Fuelling around – does your bike have carbs or EFI? Is it running the standard exhaust can, or an aftermarket can? And how about the air filter? And why do I ask so many damn questions? Mostly because all these matters are interrelated. Firstly, if you have a bike running carbs, even if the exhaust and air filter are standard, woolly running or flat spots in the power curve often point to the need for a carb balance. If you’re not willing to take on the job yourself, (you’ll need a special carb balancing tool…) ask a mechanic for a quote – this adjustment can make a huge difference. Likewise, if your carb’d bike has anything but the standard air filter and zorst and has less than crispy power delivery, it may need carb adjustment, balancing, or even something like a Dyno Jet kit to match the fuelling to how the modded bike breathes. Too many owners throw on a can, chuck in a filter and just ride away without making any carb adjustments.

EFI can be a lot easier to manage if a Dynojet Power Commander or similar device is available. Fitting is pretty easy, and there are often ‘drop in’ fuelling maps to match the mods you may have made. For the ultimate, take it to a mechanic with a dynamometer for a full custom tune.

Bits and pieces – of course all of the tasks I’ve mentioned above can be undertaken separately as the need arises – unless you’ve plonked down cash on a real woofer, it’s quite likely that much of this has already been taken care of. The most common areas of neglect by far in my experience are dry pivots and shagged chassis and suspension bearings. Get these sorted and the bike’s suspension and steering is free to speak to you clearly again.

Don’t neglect little things like greasing lever pivots and lubing control cables. Paying attention to points like these is all part of bringing back that sweet new bike feel. Take care of stuff like this in the days after you bring a ‘new to you’ bike home and it can all serve as part of the bonding experience. You’ll also have the satisfaction of walking back into the house reeking of WD-40 after a session in the shed. Now that really does smell of victory!

Keeping it clean – I hate washing bikes with water any more than I have to. That’s why I usually clean my road bikes straight after every ride. It gets a bit OCD, for sure, but I’ll admit I often remove the fairings and wash these separately with water when they get grubby, giving the exposed frame and mechanicals a good once-over with a rag and WD-40 but no water at all. I also clean the chain and sprockets with kerosene, a brush and a rag. My mantra is that if you never let it get very dirty, a bike is never too hard to clean.

Am I nuts cleaning stuff like chains? Possibly, but then built-up goo on your chain and sprockets is what attracts the grit and filth that spells early death for these components, and they’re not cheap to replace. Look after them and make them last.

On older bikes I give extra care to components that suffer with age such as brake lever rubbers – give them a light rubbing with specialist rubber grease to stop them from perishing and cracking. After all, OEM rubberware (!) on older bikes can be hard to find and surprisingly expensive. Likewise I give vinyl and black plastics a regular dose of a proprietary plastic conditioner. Who wants cacky faded plastics?

If you really want to get carried away, get along to a bike shop and find yourself a supply of black or clear breather/overflow hose – you can usually buy it by the metre. If you have a carb’d bike you’ll often find that under the carbs lives a rat’s nest of breather pipes that have long ago turned stiff and brittle. Take careful note of their routing (take a few digital photos) and then replace the old stuff with lovely supple new tubing. No-one else will see it, but you’ll know the job’s been done right.

I have a friend who’s recently picked up a pretty clean 1997 Suzuki GSXR750 SRAD, a bike that I am confident will soon qualify as a modern classic. He snagged it for around four grand. I am dying with jealousy as he steadily sets about tidying up, refurbishing and riding this great bike. It’s just one of about a dozen bikes in the 10 to 15 year old age bracket that I’d love to add to my collection. There’s just so much enjoyment still to be had in working on these bikes, and they still have more than enough performance to make you smile. They’re worth the effort to keep in great shape.

So there you have it. Having rambled on with more workshop talk once again, at least I can blame Martin Dillich for heading me down that path. I hope there’s been a thing or two in here that has made you think, although I’m sure there’s also plenty I’ve left out.

I promise, no more workshop talk next week! And meanwhile, let’s face it, it was better than 3,000 words on boobs.
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Old 12-20-12, 01:25   #100
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Note: posted in 2 parts due to the length... just keep reading down the page.

SA, Golden Grove, Wednesday 19th December 2012

Spiders, snakes and my 900SS - by Kym Liebig

If you have a long attention span or are simply not easily bored, you may recall that somewhere in my early scribblings I admitted to having owned a Honda CB400N. And not much of a Honda CB400N. In fact I’m pretty sure that there are more than a few suburban bike wreckers who would have turned me away should I have showed up asking for a crisp fifty in exchange for that bike. It was nothing special.

But I was living a different life back then. I was working for a radio station in Sydney, my now wife was my then girlfriend, and when I wasn’t working I was keeping to myself and saving my money. I’d come to Sydney from South Australia on my own, and work burned up so much of my time that I really didn’t have much of a social life. With no riding posse to hang out with, it didn’t seem to matter too much that my bike was such a nasty old rust bucket. It took me from Berowra to Seven Hills and back every day, and that was all that mattered.

The plan had been to milk Sydney for as much money as possible and then return to Adelaide – where housing prices were still realistic – and get a place of our own. It was already becoming evident that this girlfriend situation had all the potential to become permanent, and at that stage it looked like buying a house in Sydney would lock us into a mortgage that would have the two of us working flat out for the foreseeable future. We’d already been doing that for awhile, and it felt to us like we needed a break to just enjoy our Double Income No Kids status. An opportunity came up with an agency in Adelaide, and soon we were headed south again.

I won’t bore you with the details of what it takes to load a Honda CB400N into a Volkswagen Kombi van. Suffice to say it’s not easy. I’d always suspected that the CB was a heavy old boat, but this exercise, punctuated by plenty of grunting, struggling and swearing, really brought it home. More than a couple times I seriously considered just leaving the CB on the kerb and taking off, but in the end the bike made it, along with all our other worldly goods, to Radelaide.

We found a nice, big place with a decent shed just around the corner from where my brother lived, and settled in fast. I plugged back into an active social network, introduced the no-longer-girlfriend-now-fiancée around, and started to relax again. The Sydney job had been stressful, and by comparison our new lifestyle was chilled-out bliss.

It was no accident that our new place was a stone’s throw from the fabled Mount Lofty Ranges. I’d been looking forward to riding in the hills again since before we’d left Sydney. Small problem – my ride was still a mouldering CB400, and it really wasn’t up to the task.

I’ll never forget how my brother snorted with derision when he first set eyes on it. “You got a ramp for that thing? Because it looks like it weighs a ton, and you’re going to have a bastard of a time getting it into a skip without a decent ramp.”

Not one to mince words, my bro.

At the time my brother’s primary ride was a mid-90’s Ducati 900SS. He loved it. I didn’t know much about Ducatis, but what I did know was that the first time we went for a ride ‘together’ in the hills, it quickly became obvious that I’d have to get myself a Ducati, too, or any bike that might be able to keep up, because no amount of heroics on the old CB would keep the red Italian bike in sight. What’s more, my brother isn’t one to hang around waiting for stragglers. He’d simply disappear after five minutes of impatient dawdling, and I’d be left to try to find him at the next café, where he would politely suggest that I park ‘that shitheap’ as far away as possible so that there was no chance that he could be associated with it. A couple of times he also mentioned that after parking it a long way away, setting fire to the CB might be a prudent measure. He even offered me a ride home on the back of his bike should I do so. The motivation to get myself a decent bike was pretty strong.

I had some cash set aside, so, refreshingly, money wasn’t the issue. My problem was that I wasn’t really sure what sort of bike to buy. I didn’t really want to get a 900SS…I’m not that much of a follower. I suspected some sort of inline four powered 600cc sports bike would keep up, but I was by no means certain, and I wasn’t looking forward to my brother’s taunting if it turned out that the 600 couldn’t do the job. Nor did I feel ready for a 900cc inline. I looked at a couple Kawasaki ZX/6R’s, but the ones I found were ratty and nothing I’d lay down cash on. Dealer bikes seemed overpriced. I was in a quandary until a mate of my brother’s put his own 900SS up for sale out of the blue. Two years younger than my bro’s bike and with low kays, it was a pampered bike with high compression pistons and a few other choice bits. The problem had solved itself. 900SS it was.

My first Ducati ownership experience started out like I suppose a lot do – as something of a culture shock. Sit on the bike and the sidestand flicked itself up instantly – a real trap when just moving the Ducati around. The bike had so little steering lock that I almost dropped it in the driveway as I went to ride the bike home after doing the deal. An area the size of a football oval was needed just to wheel the thing around in a circle. Out on the road, the red Italian was deeply unhappy with any situation that involved going slowly or negotiating traffic. The dry clutch rattled like a tambourine busker throwing a fit. I kept telling myself that the bike was a thoroughbred, and all these things were part of the Ducati ‘character package.’ Ho ho ho.

But when I arrived home on the bike my fiancée walked out to greet me and melted at the sight and sound of it. In fact she stood, stared, went inside, made herself a coffee, came out and stared some more. Mind you, she couldn’t see the lack of steering lock.

The previous owner had warned me that the Wiseco high compression pistons fitted to the bike meant that on hot days – say, over 35 degrees – I might need to run octane booster to stop the bike detonating. He was half right. On days when the temperature ran higher than, say, 22 degrees, the bike pinged like a bastard. Octane booster is expensive. My Dad is a pilot, so before too long there was a pretty healthy supply of Avgas stored in my shed. You couldn’t do that these days. I revelled in the acrid, eye-watering tang of the stuff as the bike sat idling, but I kept a bottle of octane booster under the seat in case of emergencies. This was not a bike that would last very long running on low octane pump fuel.

But what the hell. In its element – the hills – the 900SS was a revelation. There seemed to be power everywhere, and staying anywhere near the speed limit was quite a challenge. The sound of the bike was awesome, and passing cars was something done almost with disdain. Twist the throttle in any gear and the bike simply fast-forwarded itself on a tidal wave or torque and sweet thundering noise. Chasing my brother on his bike, initially I was left behind in the turns until I simply copied his suspension settings one afternoon, transforming the bike. Ducatis aren’t bikes built for fools, and unlike most Japanese models, there’s enough adjustment in the suspension of the Bolognese bikes to allow bumbling idiots to turn their bikes into dangerous liabilities if things are set up badly. Once mine was sorted it took to turns as well as anything, although like every 900SS it needed written notice before flopping down on its side into a corner. ‘Flickable’ isn’t a word I’d use for these bikes.

I became a hills regular, riding with my brother and taking off on my own whenever I got the chance, too. It seemed somehow to be an urgent matter that I learn my way around this bike as well as I could. I started to understand my rank in the scheme of things, too. Now and then as I wound through the twisties a 750 or 900cc inline four-cylinder race rep would blast past me in a shrieking high-pitched shockwave that made me jump, travelling at what seemed to be twice my speed. For the time being I simply accepted that these bikes and their riders were in a different league…perhaps I’d get there some day.

Meanwhile I’d done my bonding with the bike, and perhaps sensing this, the bike decided to do some un-bonding, showing up some lovely Ducati foibles. One of the most entertaining of these is The Ducati 900SS Cush Drive Problem. Some bikes suffer this, some don’t. It seems entirely random, which in itself is charmingly Italian. The cush drive in a 900SS is made up of large, round rubber blocks fitted into a metal collar. The whole part is then an ‘interference fit’ into the alloy wheel. What this means is that you force the bastard thing in there as gently as you can, possibly using more subtle swear words than you might normally use, or a smaller hammer, or both. Whatever, the fact is I became very good at it, because every now and then I’d come back from a ride, roll in to the yard and note a clanging and banging sound coming from the rear of the bike. One of the cush drive rubbers would have separated from its steel collar and gone to hide inside the rear wheel…leaving the collar in place. To replace it, I’d have to fish the old cush drive rubber out from inside the wheel – easy. But that left the hard metal collar still in place, inside a relatively soft alloy wheel. To remove it took about half an hour’s exacting work with a die grinder, carefully removing metal from the collar without marking the alloy wheel, until the collar was sliced along its length and would slip out easily. Bang the new one in and it was job done. Until next time. I used to buy the cush drive rubbers two at a time, just in case.

The clutch slave cylinder popped a seal more than once. The guy at the parts shop gave me a look as though he’d been expecting to see me, and banter along the lines of “yes, they all do that, sir.” A pretty easy repair, but a pain nonetheless.

You can tell someone who is properly beyond hope in his or her relationship with Ducatis if they profess to enjoy the sound of a dry clutch. Sorry, but there’s nothing magical about it, it’s just an annoying noise that reminds you that pretty soon you’ll be teaching yourself how to renovate…a dry clutch. Regardless of the condition of your clutch plates, Ducati in their wisdom put steel plates inside an alloy basket. The harder plates wear ridges in the basket, and pretty soon what you have is a grabby, graunching embarrassment of a demi-clutch that sounds like a hippo giving birth, and means you leave hills cafes with all the grace of a square-wheeled shopping trolley. I rebuilt the thing, and the nice Ducati man at the parts shop assured me it’d last for ages if I was gentle with it. I smiled, nodded, and didn’t believe a word he said.

It was nothing to do with the fact the bike was a Ducati (and possibly still is…) but an unusual pillion took up residence permanently on the red Italian around this time. It was Harold the Huntsman. I could wash the bike, remove the fairings, clean every nook and cranny, but never catch a glimpse of Harold. He only showed up when I was riding, scurrying across the instrument panel, running across the fuel tank and up the clip-ons. I’m not particularly worried about spiders, but Harold was huge, and had a habit of showing up at very inopportune times, like when I was hanging off the bike, fully committed to a corner. When no amount of searching uncovered his hiding place, I just learned to accept the hairy bugger.

It was around this time I noticed that those Japanese race reps seemed to be passing me a lot more often, even though I’d picked up the pace quite a bit on the Ducati. I admit, to my shame, that I started giving more than a passing glance to younger, later model bikes. But I remained faithful to my 900SS, despite the lithe temptresses that called to me so often from outside hills rest stops.

Snake Day was the turning point. My brother called up one day in early spring and suggested a ride. He was taking his wife along. She’s the best pillion in the world, light, agile and utterly fearless. My bro can ride with his wife on the back of the bike faster than many people can ride solo. With a warm sun beating down and blue skies smiling on the hills, we met up and hit the hills.

The first time was the worst time. One moment I was tailing my brother, both bikes bellowing in chorus, the next I was ducking down under the screen to dodge a flying black snake. What the? Committed to a turn, my bro had simply run the thing over, and his bike’s rear tyre had flicked it up at me, sailing towards me at head height. I grew up in the bush and I’m not afraid of snakes, but flying snakes put a whole new perspective on things. I doubt even the late Steve Irwin would have a battle plan to deal with that. Crikey indeed!

Not ten minutes later it happened again. Incoming – writhing black snake at head height! I ducked, it missed me, we carried on. At the next café it transpired that my bro on the leading bike had seen the snakes, but hadn’t even been sure that he’s run them over, far less that he’d slung them back at me. Bizarre. Obviously the snakes of South Australia had all chosen this particular warm spring day to bask on the road and soak up the sun – to their peril, and mine.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful until we turned and headed for home. Cresting the final hill before the journey back into suburbia, snake number three came twisting through the air at me. This time my brother had seen the snake, jinked to miss it but still connected, and both he and his wife whipped their heads around in time to watch me duck the airborne reptile. There was much waving and gesticulating. Three snakes in one day? What are the odds?
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