This kinda fool, pilgrims. This kinda fool. Were you expecting someone else?
The annual Paul Cox Memorial Ride rolled around again, and the only bike in my garage was Yamaha’s brilliant little R7 – and it is brilliant, but maybe not the first choice for a large 60-year-old to ride Singo-Bylong-Sofala-Bathurst and return.
But there was no other choice – and it’s not like I’m NOT going riding, is it? Last year, I took the Rocket 3 (and you can read about that HERE), but I didn’t really know any of the other players when we set off. A year had gone by, and we all knew each other a bit more, so I was invited once again.
It’s about as eclectic a group as you can find – Aaron and his dad, Duncan, swap between a ZX-10 and an FJR. We pick up Tom and his Fireblade at Sandy Hollow, Marz brings his immaculate modified ZX-10, and we all kinda chase Billy around on his GSX 1400. Then there’s Gary and Dave on their Harleys – both man-sized men with savage shit-stirring abilities, and in Gary’s case, an ability to pedal his Harley way faster than the bike’s design brief.
The main target of their shit-stirring is Billy – whom I deem to be a national treasure beyond price – who is not a fan of Harleys and serves Gary and Dave shovels of good-natured disdain and contempt at every opportunity. They are all old friends, so this is to be expected. And enjoyed. Dave has resolved to buy Billy a Harley T-shirt for his birthday. Billy’s response to such a provocation is yet to be determined. But after this ride, he’s got enough ammo to bury any American Freedom Gary sends his way.
As you’ll recall from my first yarn, Billy does not wear any gloves. Never has and never will, and he looks like a heavy-set, heavily-weathered country bloke made out of old leather and poor attitude, who has nothing to do with motorcycles. Except he’s ridden his whole life, will shame many a younger and slimmer rider on faster machinery, and can only be described as all the salt on all the earth. A truly wonderful human being. He just isn’t interested in all that fancy bike gear.
The rest of them? Well, like I said, they’re eclectic…
Dave got himself a leather vest this year to put over his hoodie. He had a heart attack shortly after last year’s ride, and shed 40kgs, but is still the size of a house – but a three-bedroomer instead of a five-bedroomer. Gary has a leather jacket. It looks like it was made when Rome fell to the Visigoths.
Marz, Aaron, Duncan, and Tom all wear full race leathers. I’m in Held textile gear and those crazy stronger-than-leather jeans Held also makes.
We must make an intriguing sight – especially since no-one on these rides is taking it easy. It’s a close-knit group, and it rides at pace. A goodly pace, mind. But nothing that would give any of them more than six months jail.
I brought along my young mate, Harry, and his nicely noisy MT09, this year. Harry bangs pretty well, doesn’t mind the company of old dinosaurs, and is unfailingly polite – which is a much-missed quality in young people these days. And he could do with some jail-time. Toughen him up a tad.
I was vaguely concerned about how I’d cope with the R7. It’s not really a touring bike, is it? A slim, light, upright twin that is all about precision handling, and not so much about massive wads of torque and horsepower. The ergos are a soft racer’s crouch, but it’s rather roomier than you’d think. I’m not uncomfortable riding it, but then I’d never attempted a 600km day on it either.
Just so we’re clear here. I would have to ride the R3 north of 140 most of the time, along roads not exactly deemed the smoothest or friendliest. I would also not be permitted lengthy periods of rest, since Billy is always on some kind of inner schedule which demands we stop fucking about even before we start fucking about, get on our bikes, and piss off to the next place like a thousand raped apes.
It’s how Billy rolls. Yes, he’s the bloke geared up, and sitting up the road waiting for everyone while we’re still looking for our gloves and doing up our helmets. I’m good with this. Usually.
But the R7 might have had different ideas. I may think I’m still a spring chicken, but I’m not. Battling for a podium with these blokes could well require me to have lengthy limping, stretching, and bellyaching breaks in small towns were people look at you funny when you lie down on their footpaths.
I also thought I’d be struggling for fuel, but the R7 proved to be very frugal and an easy 200-and-a-bit is possible out of it’s 13-litre tank. Even when it’s being caned.
Along the Bylong, I didn’t have any issue keeping up. Sure, I was not able to challenge for a podium, but the R7 was happy to whirr along between 140 and 170 with ease. You have to plan your over-taking a little, because it doesn’t have that wicked stomping power the litre-bikes (or Harry’s MT09) have, but it more than makes up for that in sheer sweetness.
This is a bike that can and will carry phenomenal cornering speed. It has to, because you can’t power out of corners like you would on a bigger bike. Fine, I figured. Ride accordingly. Remember you can’t rely on mega-acceleration, and maybe apply yourself a little to cornering craft, old man, I said to myself.
Yeah, well, that application works for me most of the time. But then I flub a corner because I’m maybe not as daring and slim-hipped as I might be, and I have to work a bit harder to close the gap to the bike in front.
Here’s what I noticed on the R7. It’s so damn sweet-handling and well-mannered, banging with bigger and more powerful bikes is not much of an issue. Remember the old Yamaha TRX with the trellis frame and handling abilities that were out of this world? Yeah, well this is the modern version of that. No engine maps, great brakes, pin-sharp handling, and a motor that’s so willing to please, you’d think it was a cattle dog.
And this is the first Yamaha to feature a Brembo radial brake master cylinder. That speaks quids about where and how Yamaha expect this bike to be used.
It also boasts pretty good fully adjustable suspension. I expected to be brutalised a little, but that didn’t happen. The factory settings worked just fine for me, though some of the rougher sections had me considering some more pre-load for future excursions.
I let Aaron ride it, and I let Duncan ride it. They both said the same thing. “That is such a sweet bike!” And it is that indeed. It is a pure rider’s bike. If you’ve got half an idea about what this riding business is all about, it will delight you. If you have no idea, there’s a LAM version which will teach you everything you need to know about going around corners. And it will do it with integrity and sweet love, which seems to be what L-platers are looking for today.
There was very little love when we got to Rylstone and started fuelling up.
Tom came over and asked me if my bike was leaking petrol.
I quietly wondered if he was OK. This is a Yamaha, I thought. A brand new one. It leaks nothing. It will never leak anything. Even when it’s older than Stonehenge.
“No,” I said. “It’s not me.”
“That’s crazy. I was being hit with liquid back there,” Tom shrugged.
“It may be that,” I said, pointing to a slowly-expanding puddle of oil that was forming under Gary’s Softail.
Billy saw it the same time I did. “What’s happened there, mate?” he asked, a grin of divine evil on his face. “Looks like it’s shit itself. Can’t expect anything else from a Harley.”
Gary looked. We all looked. There was a steady stream of gearbox oil pouring out of his primary. Perfectly understandable, actually. There are things you can ask Harleys to do, and they will do them. There are other things you can ask them to do, and they’ll do them too – but then you’ll pay for having asked that question.
That’s where we were now. Gary had lashed his Softail up the Bylong like an Egyptian slaver. He passed me at one stage when I was having a moment, and I followed him for a bit, once again marvelling at how fast a man who knows what he’s doing can push a Harley. Then I passed him and moved on with my own business, which was catching the faster boys on the climb out of the valley.
Gary had worn a hole in his primary with his enthusiasm. I knew what that was about. I have sent many Harley primary covers to Jesus. Almost went myself as a result. You hole a Harley primary, and it’s going to deposit oil on your back tyre. It can be a greasy kiss goodbye.
Billy was very pleased. He had validation written all over his face. He’d always held that Harley’s were rubbish, and here was the proof. Gary was ignoring him for the moment, more concerned with solving the immediate problem, but I’m sure they’d take this development up at some stage.
Happily, for the first time in my riding career, there were two high-end mechanics with us. Both Aaron and Duncan were sorcerers in that regard.
“We have mechanics!” I chirped, waving my arms around. “On the tools, bitches, and be quick about it.”
Duncan eyed me levelly. “Oh, you have a spare primary? I’ll be needing that to start with.”
“Can it be welded?” I asked.
That’s the kind of question a mechanic will not answer lest he hurts your feelings so badly you’ll cry.
“What about liquid metal bog?” I offered. “I’ve used that before. It kinda works.”
“That might do it,” Aaron nodded, and went inside the servo to see if such a thing was available. The issue was, of course, the chrome. Metal putty doesn’t like sticking to chrome. It will. But very half-heartedly. Remember the first time you asked your girlfriend to suck your dick? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.
Offers to file the chrome off were made. Gary muttered some stuff about violence, and Dave, the other Harley rider, immediately offered to support him in this, since Harley riders have to stick together, even when one of them wasn’t going anywhere.
Phone-calls were made, trailers were put on standby, while Aaron rolled the metal putty in his hand to make it ready for its half-hearted efforts. Gary had leaned his Softail against the servo fence, so the oil had stopped running out, and we cleaned that up as best we could – metal putty hates oil more than it hates chrome.
The application process was messy. But it looked like Gary would be able to limp back to Singelton.
“I’ll go back with him,” Dave said. “If it all goes to shit, we’re big enough to be able to feed off each other for a few days.”
This was true. “Look,” I said. “We’re probably coming back this way, since the Colo bridge is still closed. If you get stuck on the Bylong, make a flag out of your underpants and put it where we can see it. We’ll be happy to stop, wish you luck, and ride home. But we shall send help when we return to Singo. Promise.”
We left them and rode on. Either they be fine, or they would die. In which case we would salute them and toast their memories, for they died as men. This is how it has always been.
Of course both Dave and Gary would be OK. We don’t have bears in this country, and Dave’s bigger than any bear anyway. The holed primary was more an inconvenience than a full-blown tragedy.
We enjoyed a very brisk gallop to Sofala, then on to Bathurst via that magic road, where we briefly tied ourselves in knots trying to brake hard enough to drop below the speed limit when we came across a speed camera car. Billy was convinced he’d been done. I told him that was unlikely. We had all washed the evil speed off in good time. Tom said something about a flat spot on his front tyre, but at the time of writing no-one had been sent a fine.
After a fast lunch, we looped back via Cullen Bullen and Capertee, and made for the Bylong again. The bridge at Colo was still closed due to flooding, so an arvo dash down the Putty would have to be replaced by an arvo dash down the Bylong. I have no problems riding the Bylong Valley Way twice in one day. I fail to see how anyone could.
I saw no giant underpant flag, or any bits of Gary being dried on rocks while Dave danced around wearing his skin. Billy told me later he’d got a message they were safely back in in Singo.
I stopped on the Bylong and took some pics of the R7, and wished I was younger. I do that a lot. What a delightful jigger the R7 is. It lets you think you’re one of them snake-thighed Euro fancy boys, all trim and taut with great teeth and an expensive haircut. I was seeing myself like that as I braked late into corners trying to carry as much corner speed as I dared, then getting hard on the gas. This vision was instantly dispelled whenever I saw my hulking great shadow on the road before me. Was there even a bike under that mass?
But I enjoyed it immensely. It remined me that great bikes were not always about beast-level power controlled more by computers than by you. Here was a bike that rewarded skill and forgave the ham-fist. No electronics. Just quality parts, great engineering, and world-class integrity. For $15K.
And it looked great, too. It looked exactly like it should look. All delicious dark blue and black (there is an all-black one and a fancy red-and-white one), and very racer-like in its stance. The tyres are gum-sticky Bridgestones, the ergos are softer than you’d think, and I had no issue with leg room.
It can hang with the big bikes, but you need to know a bit about what you’re doing, because you can’t rely on massive acceleration. You will learn and it will teach you. And that’s no bad thing at all.
A few days after the ride, I saw Billy at the shopping centre noshing on some Chinese.
“Great ride,” I said.
“Sure was,” Billy grinned. “Gary’s bought an old carbied R1 the other day. Says he’ll be better prepared for that fast stuff next time.”
We both laughed a little.
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