XB12X to FNQ

Poor Co-pilot. She’s a stoic girl.

When the Ed rang with the news that I was to be dispatched to the ‘2007 Buell Ulysses and SuperTT Ride Adventure.’ in Far North Queensland – ‘Crocodile country’ - her misery began.

News of the three day ride from Cairns to Cooktown and beyond Cape Mellville was relayed intermixed with bad Crocodile Dundee impersonations.

‘The Funnelweb spider can kill a man in eight seconds, just by lookin' at him, Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee said.’

‘Oh no, you can't take my photograph.
Oh, I'm sorry, you believe it will take your spirit away?
No, you got the lens-cap on.’

‘That’s not a bottle opener…THIS…..’ Etc etc etc.

It became her daily fare. 2 weeks of it.

Then I added that the ride was through some of the most spectacular world heritage listed areas on the continent…on a motorcycle that is our current favourite…and it’s to her enormous credit that she even picked me up at the airport on the way home.

Most of my friends just said ‘b*stard!’ and changed topics.

From the Big Dave chair however, the whole thing was rather jaw-gapingly, bugger-me! Amazing.

You couldn’t buy the time I had. ‘Nah - that’s not a ride – THIS is a ride….’

I figure the story starts when H-D Buell decided to get the bike some coverage.

Whether it’s in response to some of the bad press the bike received originally - due to that under performing front tyre, or just to tickle sales, but whatever the motivation, they put together a stunning media event.

The ‘seniors’ from the region’s motorcycle press were there. Both paper and electronic. Editors, subs and celebs. ‘Two Wheels’, “AMCN’ ‘Cycletorque’, ‘Trader’ etc etc etc and yours truly emblazoned with the Kiwi Rider Logo.

It really was a gig for the Ed – but his schedules conflicted.  And as one of the boys on-line put it: ‘I’m so lucky I could fall into a tank of crap and it would turn to jam before I hit the surface.’ I got the job.

The starers read:
Seven esteemed Editors, Deputies and ‘Celebs’ on ’07 Buell Ulysses, Paul and Chris, from H-D/Buell Aus leading the expedition with style and riding sweep on a Lightning Super TT with his off-sider  Chris, the experienced and thoroughly professional guide, Jason, from stayupright.com.au on another Ulysses, 2 x 4wd support vehicles carrying Co-ordinator Kim from H-D, Master lens man Lou Martin (I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy), PR guy Richard, and Warwick - whose incredible ‘Stay upright’ resources were employed throughout.

We set off from Cairns around 9am on Tuesday morn.

Heading North.

Bags and equipment securely stowed in the land cruiser, spares aplenty, a factory grade mechanic and support crew in tow, Max 29c, Min 21c, partly cloudy, the Great Barrier Reef away on our right and the Daintree rain forest to our future.

On a fleet of fabulous, brand new Buells. Can you imagine it was a happy bunch? Even the noise of that many cooling fans together was a hoot!

Cairns is the gateway to the reef and is a tourist town where most of the attractions are out of town.

Big time hotels that are mostly self-contained worlds unto themselves provide overnighters for the tourists transiting to the Reef or the Outback.

A night on the top floor at the Rydges was a nice way to prepare for the ride.

The roads around Cairns however, have a decidedly motorcycle flavour.

If fact, most of what I encountered on day one would remind many Kiwis of home. Lush, green jungle, often on Volcanic ramparts with verdant mountain ranges towering to the clouds.

I commented to Paul that it’s ‘a lot like NZ only 15 degrees hotter’. Think ‘Waipua Forest with gum trees, spiders and snakes’. Same, but a lot different too.

The road up the coast to Port Douglas is world heritage listed, there was a bit of traffic, but we got some clear sections too and the Buells hammered on the great sportsbike conditions between the beach and the hills. Suspensions and ergos had all been tuned to our individual heights and weights so Jason set a cracking pace and we carved it up.

A regroup at Mossman and the first off road sections greeted us across the Daintree River Ferry.

Paul and the crew dropped tyre pressures down to the mid 20’s and backed off the damping several notches while we ate lunch at the beach resort in the Jungle.

Yuh. Riding in Paradise and it’s peel me a grape time.

And so it was on, to the unsealed wilds.

Beware of the ‘cutty vines overhanging the road – they can pull you off the bike’ began Jason’s briefing.

Most are high enough not to be an issue, though some require navigation. Wild pigs, huge Cassowary, Wallaby and Snakes are other hazards he warned to allow for as we headed deep into the jungle’s mountain trails – still at a pretty fair clip.

The smell of the Eucalypts!

The road through the forest road presented two water crossing that we had to walk the bikes across. The Gibber rocks below were just too unstable.

I was glad it appears the back wheel spinning up a roost as we pushed the bike across is a Crocodile repellent. I was slipping and sliding over the loose creek bed ‘gibbers’, thigh deep in my leathers and Johnny Rebs and was in no mood for wrestling reptiles.

The gear only took a few minutes to dry in the conditions anyway – which was good – because water crossing were a constant feature of the ride. Bridges up this way are a luxury but the Buells handled it all easily.

And so it was for most of the way up to Cooktown, rainforest trails, valley floor, concrete dual tracks, fast bitumen, and dirt in various sections.

We had time for a Lemon squash at the ‘Lions Den’ Pub at Helensvale to wash away the dust before heading on to Cooktown. 

We rode to the lookout for a view over the town and it’s valley, then into town to re-inflate tyres and stiffen suspension for the 80km of bitumen coming up in the morning before checking in to what was a very nice Resort in a very small town.

A subsequent beer underneath swaying palms around the pool saw the Journos I quizzed impressed with their first day on the bike.

We had covered Sports bike roads, dusty alpine trails, creeks and dense jungle and the bikes had not missed a beat.

‘Tomorrow it opens out and gets a lot quicker.’ Continued Jason’s briefing over a sumptuous feed of Barramundi and a relatively early night under the air conditioner.

Crossing Black Mountain next morning saw us heading towards the Great Dividing Range and into the Mulga.

The 80km to Lakeland rolled away quickly as we passed epic volcanic formations with boulders the size of small houses piled into improbable mountains like stacks of pebbles.

And then just beyond the junction at Lakeland the red dust starts and suddenly you are feeling very capital ‘O’ - Outback.

We started travelling half a kilometre or more apart as we headed out onto the plains.

Flat and fast.

Speeds nudged up and up on the dirt as the convoy sprawled its mobile ‘red out’ across the seemingly endless plains.

Visibility behind was sometimes nil in the clouds of red and white dust.

The straights are broken by gently flowing streams and creeks and water holes and the need to be alert and ready to wash off speed for upcoming culverts, floodways and the roaming Brahma bulls adds an edge to it all.

So does the bull dust. No, not what you hear from Big Dave at the pub, the fine dust that collects in the pot holes and dips and corrugations of the red clay roads.

Zooming along on hard pack one minute and all of a sudden it has puddles of soft, almost invisible, dust - with a hard edge on the other side.

Keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure, but by keeping sharp the worst of it is avoided and the bikes wash off speed well enough when you see the bad sections coming, but what great fun and the bikes…handled it all very nicely.

Powerslides through the 120kph sweepers.

Climbing down to the watercourses, splashing through the creeks and then nailing it back up to the plains.

Huge plumes of dust and water, charging through the floodways, sand patches and loose surfaces at speed, kilometre after kilometre into the emptiness, the termite mounds, swamps, punctuated by the fuel or drink stops at the far-flung roadhouses at Laura and Hann River, passing 4wds and the occasional Road Train.

Outstanding, good, clean, dirty, fun until the turnoff at Musgrave roadhouse and more clay and sand till we arrived at our ‘Oasis’ and the fabulous Lotusbird Lodge.

Over a beer before dinner the other journos started asking me questions about the bike. Some even had the same chin-scratching-what –do-we-have-here-look that I did when I first tested AMPS demo 18 months ago.

We had plenty of time to discuss it.

The Lotus Bird lodge is quite amazing. It’s about as ‘far away from it all’ as I’ve been. Yet it features nice cabins perched by a beautiful Billabong and is home to an amazing array of animals – crocs included. ‘But he’s over in the next lagoon’, Garry, the Host, informed us.

Another sumptuous meal followed in the open central hut, Gary read some delightful bush poetry and a tasty bottle of red or three saw pretty happy press corps off to their cots grinning famously.

The return leg.
I got up before the dawn and perched as close as was practical to the edge of the Billabong – it’s only a Crocodile Dundee IMPERSONATION – and I marvelled at the colours, the birds and the place, and as the sun rose I banged off time exposures on the tripod I’d lugged 3,000km.

A surprising number of the lads came out to join me.

Another hearty bush breakfast followed and all too soon we were back on the gunbarrel straight red dust all the way back to Lakeland. 

It was great fun.

Slipping and sliding occasionally and working on what Warwick and Paul had coached me the nights before about rear wheel steering and keeping the front end light.

The Buells simply soaked up the distance and in all too short a time we had rolled back to the sealed roads and time to re-inflate the tyres and stiffen the suspension for more high speed stuff through the Mulga, more photo calls, and the amazing roads on the decent back to the coast via the Rex range and to Mossman on the coast.

I was tacked on at the back of the quicks and there was a serious avalanche comin’ down the mountain.

Beautiful sportsbike roads and there aren’t many better bikes at flicking from side to side down a mountain than the Buell.

Now I may have said this before…but they handled it superbly.

A final blast along the Cook highway and the top floor of the Rydges this time seemed inappropriate for one so red dust road grimy as me, so I jumped in the shower with my leathers on before getting cleaned up for the farewell dinner.

What an event.
We were presented with an opportunity to ride the Adventure sports machines through every type of conditions they are designed to accommodate. Every type of road and track and the bikes absolutely nailed it.

10 of them did 1,000km in sometimes torturous conditions and the only issue was a wiring connection on the TT’s that Paul fixed on the fly. The Ulysses didn’t miss a beat, no belt dramas…no dramas, they proved versatile, capable and great fun.

The Buell team produced an incredible event, the bikes performed superbly, all the journos I had discussions with were very favourably impressed and will knock out good copy.

Objective achieved, knowledge gained and most importantly, the Co-pilot is still talking to me.


First Published in KIWIRIDER 2007