No-one will ever give any kind of shit about riding down the Hume Highway. It’s only ever even remotely interesting at 200km/h. I know this because it was very interesting back in the early 80s when only crazed motorcyclists and truckies full of meth raced along its shitty surface and contended with their demons in the middle of the night.
But if you have no choice but to do a chunk of it, do it on a GTL. It may not be pleasurable, but it is certainly more than tolerable. It’s like doing a long-haul flight in Business Class. If you’re on BMW’s glass-smooth six-cylinder masterpiece, everyone else is in Economy.
So my tale begins in Holbrook – that insane little town with the submarines. I figured it was a good place to jump off and head to Harrietville – which is at the base of Mt Hotham, and which was the town where 140 of our MotoPG podcast’s fiercest fans would meet to watch the last Sprint Race of the season and listen to Kevin Magee, Freido, Tugs, and me make fun of them all.
So, Holbrook. Two submarines – one real, the HMAS Ottway, and one a one-fifth scale model, the HMS B11 – sit in the middle of town. Which, is weird, right?
All of bloody Holbrook is weird.
It was not always called Holbrook. Explorers Hume and Hovell could not decide between calling it Friday Mount and Camden Forest in 1825, so they fought over it and further exploration was delayed until the bruises healed.
Them naming it proved to be a waste of time. Ten years later, deranged Christians dubbed the joint “Therry’s”, after the Reverend John Therry, a Catholic priest who pissed off the government, and then made vast sums of money doing who knows what in Tasmania.
Then it was called Billabong (after a billabong that is manifestly no longer there), and two years later it was re-named as Ten Mile Creek. Because.
And in 1858 it was christened Germanton, perhaps because there was a preponderance of Germans in it at that time.
No-one knows. But two years later, the locals got pissed and re-named it Kings after the local pub, King’s Public House, despite it still being officially called Germanton. That all changed in 1915 when all things German were universally hated and the town was named after the submarine commander Norman Douglas Holbrook, a Pom who got the first Naval Victoria Cross in WWI.
I picked it to spend the night because the Internet said the steaks were good at the Holbrook Hotel. Showed me pictures and everything.
Now I hate staying at pubs, and always have. I far prefer motels or a swag in a field if I’m feeling au naturel – which doesn’t happen much these days.
I know people wank on about sleeping in beaut Aussie pubs, but sharing a bathroom with truckies, loopy long-term locals with nowhere else to live, and fellow drunks, while listening to shit bands booming through the floorboards, is not my idea of a restful night. You might enjoy walking along a piss-smelling hallway in the middle of the night to empty your bladder, and that’s fine. I like my bathroom to be near to my big double bed, which is bathed by air-con, or just using the nearest tree if I’m swagging it.
So I stayed at the Town Centre Motor Inn. I’ve stayed in worse. I’ve stayed in better. I did not notice any vermin, but the air-con rattled like a bastard, and the water-pressure was crap. The courtyard was also covered in white gravel which would certainly cause all the hips on those old Ulysses and HOG idiots to explode the moment they tried to paddle-ride through it.
The Holbrook Hotel was pretty good though. It had been modernised and gentrified. And it had a dry-aging fridge full of well-butchered Bessies. Which were subsequently priced to appal you with wankery, and disappoint you with flavour.
When I am asked to pay $70 for a 400g dry-aged T-bone, that T-bone better taste like the tears of Jesus. It didn’t. Putting two medium-sized prawns on it and a small tub of Gravox-based pepper sauce by its side did not help.
I did add some “corn ribs” to the meal, mainly through curiosity at what this actually was and why it cost $12. I should have known better. I got half a cob of corn, quartered length-ways, and deep fried, sitting atop that vile aloli splodge every cook who thinks he’s a chef inflicts upon each of his “signature” dishes. So the steak, corn, two glasses of crappy local house red, and a nice helping of wank, set me back $102. More fool me. I have no issue paying for great food. I do it gladly. But I do not enjoy being fleeced by whatever tourist-trap mentality seems to have gripped so many of these newly-refurbished hostelries that have sprung up all over the place.
I walked dinner off, took a picture of the church, which looked great in the evening light and pleased me because it was clearly not all that well-maintained, which indicated the locals were less enamoured of Jesus than they maybe once were.
The next morning, I set off, slabbed another bit of the Hume, and just as the will to live was about to desert me, I turned left before Albury at Thurgoona and headed for the high country.
Now once you hit Lake Hume, you can turn left and enjoy the swervery that awaits you at Granya Gap, then loop back to Huon via Bullioh and Tallangatta, or you can turn right and go to Huon via Bonegilla and Ebden.
I try and pay my respects at Bonegilla each time I’m in that part of the world because both my parents spent some time there when they came to Australia in the early 50s. The camp is now called the Bonegilla Migrant Experience, and you need to pay to get in and walk around this hugely sad and depressing place, which reminds me in no small way of Dachau Concentration Camp in Munich.
Sure, Bonegilla doesn’t have the guard towers and crematoria, but it has almost the same shitty barracks to house the inmates/migrants, and it is a good deal dustier and far less green than Dachau.
Going there and imagining my mother and father, and thousands like them, traumatised beyond belief by the horrors of WWII, living inside those barracks, makes me ineffably sad. Australia in the 50s and 60s was not a welcoming place for European migrants, then officially called DPs or Displaced Persons. They were also called wogs, dagos, and spics, spoke little or no English, and were expected to be insanely grateful to be here (and my parents certainly were), and get about the business of making a new life for themselves as quickly as possible. To their immense credit, they did just that. And it all began for so many of them at Bonegilla.
But, like much of Australia’s cultural heritage, bugger-all effort has been put into making the Bonegilla Migrant Experience actually worth a visit or even an experience worthy of the name. Nailing some corrugated iron to a few boards is not memorial “sculpture”, and planting a few very staged black-and-white images of “happy” and industrious migrants along the fence-line as you come into the place is simple failure. It looks shabby and second-rate – and not at all worthy of the thousands of people who lived there for a time.
But I go there because it connects me to my past, and it’s usually empty so no-one notices my tears.
I continued onto Huon, and chose to ride the Gundowring Road on my way to the legendary Tawonga Gap, rather than the Kiewa Valley Highway, which runs largely parallel to it.
My reasons were simple. There’s less chance of cops on the Gundowring Road than the more heavily-trafficked Kiewa Valley route.
I just had to watch out for cow shit (especially if it’s damp) because that’s like smelly olive-green ice if you hit it at a bad angle. But the vistas are gorgeous; very green and beautiful no matter which road you choose.
I’d stop to take the odd image, and flies would descend on me like the plague. Dairy farms attract flies. You understand why. The sky was also very grey and threatening, and rain was promised, but thus far all I had encountered was the odd damp patch. The road surface was generally pretty good, and the GTL made quite a rapid meal of the road.
“Damn this thing can bang,” I’d mutter to myself, as we hurtled along. Which is what I mutter to myself each time I re-visit the GTL. It really is the ultimate in motorcycle touring in so many ways.
I crossed the Kiewa River I’d been riding alongside at Mongans Bridge, rejoined the Kiewa Vallet Highway and minded my manners for a few kays until I got to the Tawonga Gap turn-off.
Coming this way, Tawonga Gap starts tight with lots of hairpins, crests the ridge, then opens up on the run into Bright. If you stop at the lookout, you can behold the less-than-epic majesty of Mt Bogong on the other side of the valley. At 1986-metres, it is the highest mountain in Victoria, and the place where every now and again, plague-amounts of bogong moths venture out and smear every well-meaning motorcyclist with their innards until he is blind and unable to ride on, and his bike is encrusted with their corpses and will never be properly clean again.
The surface is pretty good, though you do need to mind yourself on some of the hairpins which have been corrugated by large vehicles standing on their brakes, and there’s sometimes a bit of gravel around. But it’s almost all fine.
It’s only about 20kms from one end to the other, so you’re in Bright before you know it.
And Bright, which was once a jewel of a town both scenically and in ambience, has gone utterly to shit. It has disappeared so far up its own arse in terms of sheer pretentiousness, it seems to attract only the very worst kind of people. Most of whom are self-righteously getting in the way of vehicular traffic by riding pushbikes everywhere. Some are doing it on the cycleways, praise be. Others are pelletoning along the road two and three abreast. The place is full of wank-rich galleries, underpants-smelling micro-breweries, over-priced cafes and eateries where gluten is the work of the devil and veganism is the Jesus.
But is has petrol. And I needed petrol. The GTL carries 26.5-litres, which is good for almost 500km, and I had forgotten where I last filled up. I was also planning to ride to the top of Mt Hotham, and I knew there wasn’t any petrol up there or in Harrietville, which sits at the base of Mt Hotham and is some 20km away from Bright. A man should always have enough petrol to make his escape, which is what riding in Hungary taught me. And while I was in no danger of being murdered by Magyar vagabonds in these lush, green valleys, one never knew what the vagaries of the road might bring. Always fill up when you can.
The run from Bright to the start of the climb to the top of Mt Hotham is stunning. You run through Freeburgh and Smoko, and then Harrietville, which is a more substantial village, then almost immediately encounter a badly corrugated sharp left and commence the 30-odd kay run to the top.
You should mind yourself here. There is almost no Armco and the plunge into the valleys below is very far. The surface gets better the higher you go, and the road gets incrementally wider as well. But for the most part, its tight and there are always idiots you will encounter cutting corners. And you will encounter pushbike riders. Yes, in your way. Yes, that is their right. Just as it’s your right to get around them without spooking them and sending them to the bottom of the valley in a cartwheeling pedals-akimbo spectacle only they will briefly witness, because it would have happened behind you and you would not have seen it.
I got to the top without incident, and the views are pretty special up there. Once you get past the ghost forests of snow gums, you’re up past the tree-line and it’s nothing but impossibly beautiful vistas in 360-degrees to the horizon.
Like all Australian ski-resorts, Mt Hotham is stupidly expensive, a fair way up its own arse, and largely closed in summer – which mercifully spares you from having to encounter the Aussie Ski Twat in its natural habitat. Our ski-pits are certainly no Kitzbühel, Cortina d’Ampezzo, or Courcheval, but that doesn’t stop them from imagining themselves to be (and charging accordingly) on the same level.
I took a bunch of pictures, then aimed myself down the mountain, taking great care not to affright the dozens of pushbike riders that bedevilled the road.
Less than an hour later I was in the Harrietville Hotel.
And the people started to arrive…
Todd was there just after me. He’d just been belting around Tassie on his Husky, but lives up the coast from where I do. We were drinking a beer each when Rossco, the publican (and if ever a man was born to do this publican stuff, it was this magnificent creature), came out with a red bottle full of black liquid and some shot glasses.
“On the house,” he said, and poured out some nips.
“What fresh hell is this?” not really caring much at all.
“It’s coffee vodka,” Rossco said, knocking his back. “It’s called Jumping Goat.”
Todd and I knocked ours back so he didn’t feel alone. He immediately re-filled our glasses. It seemed the jumping of the goats was beginning.
“You know,” I said to Rossco, “if this was the USA, I would buy a bottle of this disgraceful rubbish and greet people with it.”
So let me now apologise to the people I greeted as they arrived and made them drink the Black Goat Exciter…
Sorry, bitches. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But all sorts of diabolical shit seems like a good idea when your liver is being assaulted by Black Goat Dancer. I meant you no harm.
That night went off swimmingly. Kevin Magee arrived, along with Tugs and Freido, and more than a hundred other people. I had run out of Black Goat Cum to force upon them because the barman wisely felt he should not sell me any more bottles of that stuff right at that point in time. I loved him too. He was from Toronto so was clearly across all sorts of savage ice-hockey based violence.
It rained all night and the following morning everything was wet. But people wanted to ride with Kevin Magee so that was gonna happen. But it wasn’t gonna happen to the top of Mt Hotham because if it was shitty down here, it was going to be even more shitty up there – and as it turned out, it was.
I found this out from Struth when about 40 of us arrived in Mt Beauty, having slid over Tawonga Gap, while I sat at the end trying not to vomit Black Goat Filth out my nose and arse at the same time. The only thing that kept me alive was the magnificent K1600. I’m sure there’s a button that advises the bike the rider is not at his best, and it just deals with it.
Struth told me he had just ridden down from Hotham and that it was raining sideways, there were rivers running across the road, and he’d almost died.
Kev and Josip, a local bloke, belted off with the rest to ride the Happy Valley Road, and I made my way back to Harrietville to prepare for the show we were to put on that night and to allow the Black Goat Poison out of my body by whatever opening it chose.
At 630pm the pizzas started coming out of the pub’s ovens, a beaut chick was singing melodies on stage, and everyone in that whole pub – apart from the four blokes in ugg boots and shorts – was lubricating themselves with purpose.
The four of us started yelling into the microphones at about eight. No-one threw anything at us. Then we raffled off stuff some of our sponsors had given us.
We managed to raise some $1500, mainly due to Struth paying $1000 for an HRC team shirt the beaut Michael Heuchan donated. It was covered with some serious signatures, among them Barry Sheene and Mick Doohan.
All the money is going straight to Simon Crafar’s Riders For Dogs charity.
The publican, bless him for all time, let us stay inside the locked pb along with the bartenders until the Sprint Race finished, which was about 2am, from memory. Some soft girls went to bed before the race started.
The next morning I left at 8am. It looked like being a lovely day, so I headed out via Porepunkah, looked upon Mt Buffalo where no buffalo have ever roamed, found a nice slice of road that runs through Mudgeonga, Bruarong, Yackandandah, Osbornes Flat, and Allans Flat, and eventually spits you out at Baranduda. From then it’s all Hume until it’s all M1, and then all John Hunter Freeway, until I got home in ten hours flat. There were bugs all over the windscreen of the GTL. Not a single one was on me.
Yes, the GTL is the ultimate bug-killing continent-eater.
WHY THE 2023 BMW K1600GTL IS SO DAMN GOOD
It doesn’t have a seat. It has an act of kindness and comfort instead, which can be heated for both you and the pillion if circumstances demand.
The electronic screen is the size of a boogie-board, which means when it is full deployed, you’ll sit in a bubble of peace, quiet and calm. And actually, listen to music up until you’re doing more than 130. In which case you shouldn’t be listening to music. But I rode the whole trip – some 2000km – with the visor on my helmet up. Not a single bug hit me in the face. I could hear myself singing. It even rained some on me, but not quite enough to make me wet. The protection offered by the GTL is next-level.
No matter how comfortable the seat and riding position, you need to be able to move and stretch on a bike if you’re doing long stretches in the saddle. The GTL shines here as well. The stand-up ergos are spot-on. I’d stand and stretch my legs on the boring bits, and felt just like Kate Winslett standing on the prow of the Titanic, though far less doomed. When other bits needed stretching, you can perch your arse on the pillion-seat and arch forward for a few kays, giving your back a nice stretch and pretend you’re riding the world’s biggest café racer.
The engine-suspension package is sublime on every level. The GTL handles with a precision that belies its size. It’s 358kg wet, but it doesn’t feel like that when you’re carving twisties. Bad suspension and a lifeless engine add greatly to rider fatigue. That does not happen on the GTL. It can be ridden as a weaponised monster, or you can just waft along and enjoy the sights.
The entire panoply of rider aids is available on the GTL. Everything from hill-assist to reverse, with the full array of rider modes. The luggage capacity is a magnificent 113-litres, and that 1650cc six-cylinder engine makes 180Nm of torque in such a glass-smooth fashion, the ride is indeed effortless. Hell, it’s downright omnipotent.
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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.