Riding in the cold when the rain is teeming down is special. It is a place of misery most riders avoid if they can. We couldn’t, and as far as I was concerned, the next 160km would certainly test both myself, my gear, and the R18B.
The road surface was pretty good, and since we didn’t want to be out in this crap longer than necessary, the pace was upped to a meaty 140-150. I remained dry. I remained warm. If you’re core is warm, and if you can stay relatively dry, it’s possible to do this all day on the R18B. My hands were also dry. More on that in a separate story. My feet were dry and this is WHY.
I knew Dino (no wet weather gear) and the Kommissar (“I can’t be buggered putting it on”) were suffering. I could feel the anguish coming off them through the rain-lashed gloom. I empathised, for I had been there, but the sympathy cupboard was bare.
We stopped in Gilgandra, decided we did not want 91-Octane petrol, and figured it was 80km to Warren. The only possible sacrifice here would have ben Cam and his Aprilia. We promised we’d come back for him if he ran out of juice, and hit the road again.
Collie, which regular readers would have heard me mention many times, was our next – and very welcome stop.
Tom is the new owner, and in all honesty, you won’t get a friendlier welcome anywhere. Some publicans look askance at large, wet, cold bastards trooping into their licensed establishment to drink beer and hog the fire. Not Tom. He made us feel very welcome, and insisted we made lots of noise when we left, so that people would appreciate the depth of our restless souls.
I resolved to ask BMW if it was keen to maybe fit some thunder-cannons to the R18B at its next service. Something with two 900cc, horizontally-opposed cylinders will make a righteous noise, I just know it. And Tom, who has quite a following on social media and whose videos are simply brilliant, is not a bloke I want to disappoint. You can check out the Collie Hotel Facebook page HERE.
A cleansing ale and we were back on the road an on our way to Warren – a very fast 40km away. The rain had eased, but it was no warmer and the roads were still wet. It did not take the five of us very long to get to Warren, as you can imagine.
It took the remaining two a while longer. Jason had a flat tyre which he discovered when he left Collie, and Dino had a tube of Finileak. They were a match made in outback heaven.
Hot showers all around. As I stood under the blessed rain of hot water, I was smiling. This is what it’s been about for me my whole riding life. Good friends, fast, empty roads, intriguing pubs and locals (coffee shops just don’t cut it the same way), challenging conditions, breakdowns, repairs, angst, laughter, savage shit-stirring…how can this not feed a man’s soul? How can one not grow richer as a result? How is one’s existence not enhanced?
I felt a half-hour shower was an elegant sufficiency, re-dressed, and sallied outside to see if my companions were disposed to dinner and drinks at the RSL.
The Kommissar greeted me with no pants on. He only brought one pair, for reasons only evident to him, and having eschewed wet-weather gear, those pants were now banging around inside the motel’s dryer.
The others were gimlet-eyed and hungry.
Sadly, all the pubs in Warren are now closed. The cotton industry has automated to such a degree, there is no longer much call for itinerant chippers and workers. Once, Warren had lots of backpackers who worked in the cotton industry. The pubs boomed. The gene pool was enhanced.
Now it’s just the RSL and the Golf Club. The former is closer to the motel when you’ve had a few. Simple choice. And the food is amazing. I had a Massaman curry which blew me away. They even had Kirin beer on tap until we drank it all.
Johnny had joined us. He knew everyone in the RSL club. Literally. And there was about 150 people there. So when we asked if we could watch the MotoGP practice sessions on the club TV, it couldn’t happen fast enough. A few locals enjoyed the rare treat of me yelling abuse at Aleix Espargaro in Serbian (so as not to offend), and I’m sure Johnny is going to have to explain his strange out-of-town mates to the next people whose dog he has to shoot. He does that from time to time. He’s the local ranger, so no-one takes it personally.
Small country town late at night are a silently glorious. The sense of isolation is profound at night. You can feel the vastness of Australia around you outside of the town lights. A 30-second ride in any direction will put you into that mute expanse. It will be like Warren does not exist if you ride for 60 seconds in any direction.
You can hear yourself think out there.
The next morning, we went to breakfast at the café. There’s only one. It’s called the One One Seven, and it’s also a bakery. The prices are incredibly reasonable and the breakfasts are fine. I wish they had cushions on their steel chairs, because those mongrels are hard work when it’s six degrees, but I can eat standing up if I have to.
It warmed up a touch, maybe 10 degrees, it was dry, so we rode out to Johnny’s 20-acre property maybe two kilometres from the town centre.
I have ridden up and down Johnny’s 200-metre-long driveway many times. But not once when it was wet. In fact, I have never seen it rain in Warren. I stopped and examined the stretch of reddish clay, churned up by 4×4 tyres, shrugged and chugged on. Had I sat there any longer, my manhood would have been put to the question. I was not having that.
In five metres, the R18B was going its own way, and I was a passenger. All traction lost, it swung left. I corrected. It swung right. I stopped breathing and put my feet out. It swung back left a touch, then whipped hard to the right and I went off the driveway and onto the sodden grass. I stopped upright.
Then I declared the wet grass to be my friend and rode along it instead of the mud.
When these big girls start sashaying in wet clay, you’re pretty much a passenger. They’re gonna do their thing. I was upright because the R18B is just not as vast a handful as Andy’s Victory turned out to be when it lay down on its side behind me. It’s also got a very low centre of gravity.
As Andy put it, “Spirit Lake needed to lie down; Berlin performed a pirouette”. The others chugged in at various speeds – all of which were faster than mine, except for the Kommissar. His approach was markedly slower, but filled with great dignity.
Massive logs awaited the fire that evening, but rather than lighting them now, we decided we’d ride to Nevertire for lunch. A small pub owned by three young sisters? Sure, why not.? And it’s the starting point of the fabled Oxley Highway.
You know what else it is? It’s a very fast 19-km dash from Warren. Cruisers make sense out here. Bikes that hammer corners not so much. I offered Andy a ride on the R18B, and I re-acquainted myself with the Magnum.
Here are his thoughts…
“The Beemer has some clear advantages, as it should with a design that is at least 10-years younger. It steers and brakes better and is streets ahead on the technological front. It feels much smaller than the Victory and is easier to handle even though according to the specs I looked at it is a hefty 50-plus kilos heavier. The centre of gravity is plainly much lower.
“I only rode it for around 20km of mostly straight road so my opinion is a little “unfinished”. The R18’s engine feels much like any boxer engine under acceleration (albeit on a grander scale) as those massive cylinders slam their merry way from side to side. But at cruise it transforms itself into an uncannily smooth engine. The Victory is different as the engine literally hammers away evenly at nearly any speed. I can dig that big Boxer.
“It is a little hard to compare power because my Vic has mild street cams, is tuned and has a much louder exhaust so it feels and sounds faster. It makes for an interesting comparison but the speedo on the R18 suggests that there wouldn’t be a lot in it.
“Would I have one? Preliminarily that is a yes. As a shorter person I found it considerably easier to manhandle at low speeds. The luggage capacity is a bit shit, but the Victory has by far the largest bags of any bagger so I’m not convinced that it would be a deal-breaker. Those big cylinders make it harder to stretch out but I am unconvinced that is necessarily a problem. Apparently, BMW makes “calf rests” to sit on top of the cylinders.
“BMW have a serious competitor in the Bagger market and the people in that demographic who have scant concern about the badge on the tank would do well to give the R18B a close look.”
The Nevertire Hotel was warm, the sisters very welcoming, and the food outstanding. I like this modern Australia. Once, Nevertire (essentially a rail-siding) was a place where the sexiest thing was a truckie coming down off meth, and food was something you should have had in Dubbo.
Fed and beered, we roared back to Warren, put on warmer clothing and enjoyed an evening of home-cooked lab and beef, and cobs of bread hollowed out and filled with delicious cheesy dips, courtesy of Johnny’s magnificent wife, Lisa.
The fire got bigger, a few blokes on their way to the Finke joined us for beers and tall tales, and Johnny and Lisa told of the time Johnny acquired an alpaca to guard his sheep, then discovered he’d got himself the only alpaca serial killer on earth.
He tells the tale better than I do because he lived it, but as soon as they let the alpaca loose, it attacked the sheep, then it attacked Johnny, then it attacked Lisa, then Johnny attacked it with a shovel, subdued it, and returned it to the man who sold it to him.
Lisa generously drove us back to our lodgings when it all became too much.
The next morning, we were on the road at seven.
Now being on the road at seven out that way can be fraught with peril. There are lots of wild animals you can hit. But it’s a lottery. Sometimes, there are no animals at all. Sometimes there’s one too many.
We kept the pace to around 120, which gave us some room for error, and I was determined not to have to explain to another motorcycle manufacturer why their nice motorcycle has a marsupial embedded in it.
It was still cold. It actually felt colder than the other day, but it wasn’t raining. And we hummed along once we got to the other side of Gilgandra at a good pace, pausing briefly in Mendooran to relieve our bladders.
Breakfast was in Dunedoo at the White Rose Café. You gotta love a place that serves great food and coffee, while you’re being called “Darling” all the time.
I was back in Singleton by noon.
Once again, my soul had been stroked and stoked. Once again, I’d measured myself against the road. Once again, no-one died, got hurt, or ended up in gaol. Once again, we’d laughed a lot. We’d gazed at distant tree-lines, breathed clean, cold air, coughed on woodsmoke, and gazed at a night sky be-glamoured with stars.
We were cold, we were wet, we experienced moments of terror, and moments of exhilaration. Problems occurred, and they were overcome. Old friendships were renewed and strengthened, and newer ones forged stronger.
The R18B revealed itself to be an altogether brilliant bike, at speed and in some pretty sketchy conditions. I always felt majestic on it. And I’m sure I mentioned I was also warm.
The heel-toe-shifter thing that was bothering me, has been dealt with, and I can now shift normally if I choose not to use the heel. I’d like the panniers to be bigger…but would I? I got everything I needed for a three-dayer in there easy. Maybe a rack on the back for longer trips?
Stop…it’s not yours, you have to give it back.
And I will. But not just yet…
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.