MAIN IMAGE BY CARL HENSEL
The motorcyclist’s soul is forged in winter. Thus has it ever been.
Impending hypothermia and wind-chill factor do a great job of prodding your inner-you to see if you’re truly committed to this bike-riding caper.
Some are. Many aren’t.
My commitment is without question. I’m the ISIS of motorcycles, and I sold my soul to riding them decades ago. The winters were just as cold, our riding gear was rubbish, and the only time your grips were heated was when your bike fell into a campfire.
Didn’t care. Rode anyway.
Today, that paradigm has changed. Certainly on BMWs – all of which come standard with heated grips. The Germans clearly understand cold on a level we do not. And this understanding has caused them to provide the R18B with a heated seat as well.
Two things occur when your bike has such things. The first and most important is you are much more comfortable than riders who do not have heated grips and seats. And when you’re comfortable, you ride well.
The second thing that occurs is your riding companions, who might not be blessed with such warming wonders, will hate you and cast aspersions on your ancestry and manhood.
Usually, it’s hard to understand what they’re saying because they’re so cold they mumble and need help to get off their bikes, but you can see the hatred emanating from their ice-blind eyes.
I was once like that. I considered this heated stuff coming onto the market to be the work of the devil and the unmanning of myself. I had tattoos, Goddamnit! I suffered righteously and manfully! Only the weak and the soft had heated grips and seats.
But one frozen night run on a BMW bike changed my mind forever. I feel the heated grips saved my life. I encountered black ice, the bike started sliding, but since I could feel and use my hands, I managed to haul things back from the edge. It was a salutary lesson.
The R18B I was on this weekend, had both heated grips and a heated seat. The heating range was from One to Five. I’m thinking turned to Five, the grips would boil water and the seat would fry eggs. Four was almost unbearable, and three was that Just Right porridge Goldilocks got into trouble for.
I shudder to think how cold it has to be for the rider to dial these things up to Five. I would like to find out, because, as you know, I am a fey and cussed creature.
Australian winters are not German alpine winters. However, our Australian winter’s fangs were fully bared when the seven of us set out from Singleton just after dawn.
Whatever soul squirmed inside me, had its thermals on.
It was four degrees according to the readout on the R18B. I believed it. German instruments don’t tell lies about such things.
We were an eclectic assembly of old warhorses and younger stallions…
The Kommissar and his modified Harley. He tells me it does 220-plus. I don’t believe him.
Harry and his brand-new second-hand GSX-S, sitting on ancient tyres with all the adhesion of linoleum. I told him there were very few corners.
Cam and his Aprilia RSV4 in Gran Turismo mode – which is a handbag-sized sack tied to the back. I also told him there were very few corners.
Jason and his LAM SV650 – a hilarious combination of “I just don’t care” and “Catch me if you can”.
Dino and his ancient, knobby-tyred F800GS, with which I have seen him out-ride men on sportsbikes. He remains the fastest rider I have ever met. He rides this almost fossilised GS on crap tyres because he says he enjoys the way the front-tyre loses traction. He also enjoys seeing egos die.
Andy and his Darkness – which is a tweaked and much-improved Victory Magnum. The same one he was riding two bikes behind me when I hit that kangaroo at 180 on our way to Alice Springs a few years ago.
The plan was simple. I was going to visit my brother, Johnny White up at Warren. I’d invited some friends who wanted to go for a ride. We were going to toast each other’s beautness, tell some lies, sit around a campfire, and ride some cold winter miles. Because such things nourish the motorcyclist’s soul.
And the soul must be nourished or it dies.
Only three of my companions were near physical death by the time we got to Merriwa. Andy, Harry, and I, ride a lot. Our gear reflects this. I would have been fine even without the R18B’s heating facilities. Cam had just bought himself some new gear, and he had that sly “I’m not hypothermic” grin on his face.
Not so Dino and the Kommissar. Dino had heated grips, but it was obvious the leather jacket, thermals, and T-shirt ensemble he was rocking wasn’t cutting it. Likewise the Kommissar.
Both are motorcyclists with decades of experience. Both don’t ride all that often these days – and thus both pay the price when it’s cold and their gear isn’t up to scratch. Both also swear they will rectify this for “next time”. Then they forget and I get to enjoy their suffering all over again.
We ate pies and drank coffee. The sun came out but the thermometer did not move. I did not care. The R18B’s fairing kept the wind off me, while still keeping a muted air-flow to my head so my visor didn’t fog up. The screen is not adjustable, but it’s so correctly positioned I don’t feel it needs to be.
So a word about buffeting – dirty, roiling air, disrupted by a fairing, hitting you in the head and making your crazy. It’s a deal-breaker for many people. But how come some people get buffeting and others don’t, even if they’re on the same bike?
There are a few factors here. Much depends on your size. If you’re a big, rangy giraffe of a man, then you will cop dirtier air than a lesser man. Stands to reason, right? Secondly, and just as crucially, it may be your helmet. I wear different helmets, so I have an insight here. Same bike, three different helmets, three different buffeting effects.
If your being buffeted, it may be your helmet.
As we made our way west, and my mind wasn’t occupied with telling me how cold it was and how little of my body responded to its instructions, I started to notice things on the R18B – most especially how it went about this touring business, which is what it’s designed to do.
I felt there would be niggles on a long ride. I actually expected them, and I thought I could identify them and what was causing them.
The first issue I thought I’d have was with the foot ergos. The R18B is unlike other cruisers in that your feet are not stretched forward. It’s a neutral riding potion. Harley riders will a scoff at this. “I need the damn highway pegs of freedom!” they will declare.
Yeah, well, you don’t, Chief. When you ride like that, with your feet out in front, and I have for hundreds of thousands of kilometres, your spine is the shock absorber. It doesn’t help the suspension on a Harley or an Indian is sub-par when compared to the BMW. And our roads are even more goat-tracky after all the rain we’ve had.
Interestingly, I did not wish I could stretch my legs out in front of me. I think that’s because I was not cramped – the riding position is roomy – and on the occasion I encountered a pothole I couldn’t swerve around, my body was in a position where my legs could take the shock. Beats the spine being hammered any day.
I also began to fully appreciate what a smooth ride the Beemer offered. You have to put meaningful miles on a bike to get the full picture and answer the question: “Could I live with this?”
Sure, it’s got all that beaut lumpy start-up and idle thing going on – and integral part of its appeal – but get it rolling and it’s glass-smooth. You can still feel the almost subterranean thrum from the massive cylinder heads, but you want to feel that.
It’s also a beautifully balanced bike, which is more responsive on changes of direction and tipping into corners than you would think. This is important on a 345kg bike. I would invite you to ride one back-to-back with its American competitors and see the difference.
The road between Merriwa and Dunedoo is heavily patrolled by the police. Now, given I did the last 40km of it at about 70km/h this did not phase me much.
There was a hint of this happening at Merriwa. Dino’s ancient and very hard-ridden GS had been signalling him it was displeased about its electricals. It would do this by not turning itself off even though he was in my lounge-room with the key. When he rode it, its tail-light would fade in and out at irregular intervals.
Dino assured me it was nothing serious.
He assured me of this once again when his bike died 40km outside of Dunedoo. I was skeptical, but it was not yet the time to start hating him and hitting him with tree branches. We were at least an hour away from that escalation.
“It’s the ignition tumbler!” Dino declared, repeatedly ramming his key into it, and trying to push it through the whole bike.
That’s indeed what it did seem to be from where I sat on the gently idling R18B, my bum warm, my hands warm – at peace and at ease. I knew I would make it to my destination even as wild animals tore Dino’s corpse into manageable pieces.
His bike fired up, he’d ride it a few hundred metres, then it would cut out again. Then it didn’t fire up. Harry immediately offered to push him with his leg. I sent the others off to Dunedoo. There was little point in all of us being mowed down by a truck. Then I turned on the R18B’s hazard lights, and idled along behind Harry and Dino.
What Harry did was quite a feat. He extended his left leg, put his foot on Dino’s right-hand pillion peg, and then just pushed Dino and the bike along. For 40-kilometres. He even got up to about 90km/h on a downhill stretch.
By any measure, that is one hell of an effort. I would have offered, but the massive cylinder heads on the BMW prevented me getting my leg out far enough to push Dino. Besides, Harry is in his 20s. This kind of stuff is character-building. I require none of that. Mine was built long ago by similar travails.
The others were waiting for us in Dunedoo. It was now nine degrees. We cheered that development, got some petrol, Dino fixed his bike, and we headed for Mendooran.
This road is less-patrolled, so it was a good chance to lift up the skirts a touch. In case you need to know, the R18B pulls very hard from 140 to 170. Much harder than I thought it would, and remains completely unflappable and planted. I’m thinking it would easily sail on to 190. I’ll let you know if that’s doable in another piece…
Anyway, we got to Mendooran in a zesty mood. The temperature had dropped again to around six, and it began to rain. The cheering stopped and we went inside the pub to eat and heat the cold from our hides.
McKechnie’s Royal Hotel is a glorious old Aussie pub that harks back to the days when Mendooran was livelier than it is today. It bills itself as the oldest town on the Castlereagh River, and was once an important crossing back in the 1830s. Now it’s a town noted for its murals and great pub meals – and a publican whose dry sense of humour is like desert-baked sandpaper.
When we arrived, he advised us not to cross the bouncer he’d just hired, because she was not in the mood. “She” was six-months-old and perched in a high-chair near the fire. He then told us to move our bikes or be prepared to chase the truck that would take them out when it came around the corner. It was all the same to him, he said. I believed him.
Then the rain started. Those of us who had wet weather gear, put it on. Except the one of us who could not be bothered to put it on. And the other one of us who did not have any.
THIS IS THE END OF PART ONE
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