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TALES OF THE ROCKET, MAN – PART THREE

IN THE FAST COMPANY OF STRANGERS…

“Where are you going?” my wife asked.

 

“I’m going for a ride.”

 

“By yourself?”

“No, with Duncan and Aaron.”

 

She stared at me, like she does when I say something that makes no sense.

 

“Who are Duncan and Aaron?” she asked.

 

“The blokes who service my car.”

 

“You get the car serviced in town at Clifton Automotive.”

 

“Yep, and that’s the father and son who own the business and service my car.”

 

“Since when do you go riding with people you don’t know?”

 

“What are you talking about? I know them both. They’ve been doing the car since we moved here and Branxton from next door…”

 

“His name’s Brendon,” she interrupted.

 

“Yeah, him. He told me I should take the car there because they were the best in town, and he was right. They’re great. They don’t rip me off, they aren’t snorting gak off the benches when I arrive, and they haven’t offered to fight me for the invoice like those Lebs did in Sydney. And they ride bikes.”

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“Not sure. There was talk of Bathurst.”

 

“Do not crash and do not get booked,” she intoned.

 

“All of that is in the hands of the Road Gods.”

 

So five minutes later, at 6.45am, I was at the meeting point, which happened to be a wooden council bench on the main street of Singleton.

 

Duncan had called me about the meet point a week before.

 

“You know the United servo in town?” he asked.

 

“I do.”

 

“It’s not there.”

 

“That’s good to know. I won’t go there then.”

 

“There’s a wooden bench just down from the servo. We meet there.”

 

I figured I’d find it. Singo is not a big place.

 

There was a GSX1400 parked there when I arrived, and a bloke about my age and shaped like a chest-freezer was standing in a doorway opposite it.

 

I backed the Rocket 3 up the kerb at a respectful distance from his bike, and nodded. He nodded back.

 

“You here for the Duncan’s ride?” I asked.

 

“Yep.”

 

“I’m Boris,” I said, sticking my hand out.

 

“Billy,” he said, taking it in his. “You that writer bloke?”

 

I nodded, just as a thunderous Fat Boy arrived, ridden by a smiling bloke bigger than Billy and me put together.

 

“G’day,” the giant said when he got off. “I’m Gary. That your Rocket?”

 

“Well, it’s Triumph’s. They just lent it to me for a while.”

 

“He’s that bloke who writes about the bikes,” Billy explained.

 

“What a great job,” Gary beamed. “How do I get a job like that?”

 

I didn’t think we knew each other well enough to broach the subject of Satan, animal sacrifice, self-harming, and the ingestion of corporate penises, so I did the shrugging thing and said: “It’s a long story.”

 

Gary and Billy then got to talking like the old mates they were, and very politely tried to include me in the conversation, which was not easy, since I had only lived in Singleton for three years, while they seem to go back for generations.

 

More bikes arrived. Another Harley (Dave), and immaculate and somewhat customised ZX-10 (Marz), and a wicked-looking red Hayabusa (Mitchell). All of the riders shook hands with me, and peered closely at the Rocket, which is still a bit of a rarity on the road – and 2500cc of weaponised Englander will always generate a fuss. It’s one of the things I love so much about the Rocket – watching peoples’ faces when you tell them it makes 221Nm of torque; a number that is more freak-show than Newton-metre.

 

Duncan and Aaron were the last to arrive – another ZX-10 and a late-model FJR were added to the mix. There was also everything from race-leathers to Billy’s old-school leather jacket and jeans, and Gary’s “Fuck yas, I’m doing this in my hoodie” outfit.

 

The more I looked and listened, the more I came to realise these blokes were almost exactly like the mates I go riding with – an eclectic, viciously shit-stirring herd of close-knit bastards, of varying ages – and who were kind enough to invite a new kid (me) along on one of their very important annual rides.

 

Once a year, these blokes do the Singleton – Bylong – Sofala – Bathurst – Lithgow – Bells Line – Kurrajong – Putty Road loop. It’s a 600 km ride, which can take some nervous people two days to complete. These blokes were clearly not “some nervous people” at all. It appeared they, like my mates, didn’t think all that much of a doing a 600km day, with lunch and fart-arsing around thrown in. Out by dawn, home by sundown.

 

They were doing it to honour a mate, Coxy, who had passed about a year ago. It was his son, Mitchell, who was on the Hayabusa, because his dad had a thing for Hayabusas – which included him building them so they could go very fast on the salt. So it was a memorial ride of sorts. And some of the company certainly looked zesty.

 

I felt a bit strange, and you can’t blame me. I don’t like to ride with people I don’t know, and I certainly don’t like to ride such distances with people I don’t know. There are only three possible outcomes to such rides – and two of them are usually the most likely, and the third is as rare as a white whale.

 

Outcome One: These blokes all ride like doddery arseholes, obeying every speed-limit, stopping for pictures, coffees, pies, pissing, shitting, waiting for lost/slow/dead mates…and I lose the will to live after 100kms and leave. The problem of who then services my car follows.

 

Outcome Two: These blokes all ride like unhinged lunatics, snort gak, crash into each other, trees, trucks, and me, and don’t quite know where they’re going, but wherever it is, it’s way faster than they are capable of going there…and I will make every effort to escape before I am killed or maimed. The problem of being thought a poncing coward who can’t ride fast enough by the bloke who services my car then surfaces.

 

Option Three: I somehow luck onto a group of blokes who ride like I do, and like my mates do, and we have a great ride, lots of laughs, and all live to tell the tale and do it again as soon as possible. Car then continues to get serviced by good men and true.

 

I had my answer pretty much before we go to Jerry’s Plains and collected young Tom and his shiny red Fireblade. Aaron on the FJR had set a brisk pace through the morning fog, while I’d sat at the back of the pack and looked on. I’d felt it best to adopt a watching brief. No-one likes the new guy on a big, black motorcycle suddenly injecting himself in a pack of blokes who had been riding together for years.

 

If and when the time came for there to be a piss-measuring contest, then we would see what we would see. But I was quite happy to rumble along behind the two Harleys at a sensible 120-130 until we got to Sandy Hollow, the jumping off point for the Bylong Valley Way.

 

I was secretly hoping there would be some piss-measuring. I had yet to ride the Rocket in true, sustained anger over many, many kilometres. Sure, we had been up and down the Putty a few times, and egos had been destroyed in its wake, but they were all solo runs – and relatively short. I had yet to see what John Bloor’s Warhammer could do over a longer distance in what was looking like very fast and able company. Of this I was in no doubt when we were stopped by a roadwork’s stoplight a few kays into the Bylong, and Marz felt his tyre should be fried a little bit and smoked it up some. I grinned to myself. Yes, this is what my mates would do in the same situation.

 

Big Gary on the Fat Boy looked at me and said: “I’ll be taking it easy, if you wanna go on ahead.”

 

“Thanks,” I nodded, and when the light went green I did just that. Still, being the new kid, I figured anyone I could pass, would have to be passed with politeness and courtesy. I can carve my mates up and brake-check them as much as I wanted to. We have ridden many tens of thousands of kilometres in just that fashion, and we know what’s going to happen. But I was new here, so before I passed anyone, I spent a little time looking to see if any Crazy Ivan Shit was going to be likely.

 

Crazy Ivan Shit, if you don’t know, was a term coined by the US Navy and referred to the behaviour of Soviet submarines who wanted to not be tracked by their US counterparts. They would therefore perform unpredictable manoeuvres trying to throw their pursuers off their trail.

 

Lots of motorcyclists do just that – but not because they’re being tracked by a Seawolf-class attack sub. It’s because they struggle with the complex paradigm of going fast for many kilometres on unfamiliar roads while in the company of like-minded people. And it’s terrifying and not in a good way.

 

I don’t mind being pumped with adrenaline and the red-mist of battle. I love how hard I have to concentrate, how laser-like my focus is, and how every nerve I have is alive and thrilled to be there. Terror is not part of that equation. And if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

 

But as the Bylong unwound its many pleasures and challenges, the Rocket was doing nothing wrong. And I mean nothing. Not only was this stupendous gronk-bison happily contending for a podium, but it was rock solid in fast corners, and faster sweepers, and indomitable on the power out of them. It was not as pin-sharp on the few really tight hairpins the Bylong has, but apart from kissing the bitumen with a peg here and there, it did amazingly well – and its massive torque made sure no-one was getting away, and no-one was passing.

 

I was blown away by just how good the Rocket is at this scratching business. It is, as I’ve said, an insane mariachi band of a bike, that pounds its torque into the road like it’s beating a war-drum. The wet-eyed joy I get from riding such a Tyrannosaur as fast as I can, and being struck breathless each time I gas it our of a corner, is priceless.

 

Brakes, suspension, the whole package just works. In fact, if there’s a better rear-brake on a bike, I have yet to find it. And I will not hear a bad word about Avon Cobra Chrome rubber. Sticky and predictable – one can ask no more of a tyre.

 

Yes, she’s big, and yes, she’s long. But she’s like a girl who can dance in eight-inch heels. You have no idea how that’s even possible, but its bewitchingly magnificent and arousing to watch.

 

Some of the blokes remarked on this as we drank coffee and ate pies in Rylstone later that morning. They were mistakenly observing how fast I could “pedal that monster”, so I had to advise them that that pedalling was all due to the monster’s insane capabilities, rather than my humble efforts. I just turn the throttle and plan on not crashing, while asking questions I reckon the bike can answer.

 

“It’s amazing that a bike that big can go that fast and hard,” Duncan observed.

 

“That is why I love it,” I sighed. “And I really do love it. If we were closer mates I’d show you my erection.”

 

By any measure, it was a very spirited essaying of the Bylong, and as the kays had clicked by, I’d begun to feel I was among like-minded friends, and less like a bloke who’d just come along for a ride.

 

Of note at this stage was the fact that Billy was not wearing gloves.

 

“Mate,” I said to him. “Did you lose your gloves back at the servo?”

 

Billy frowned at me. “Never worn ’em. Don’t like ’em.” he said, and walked off to finish his sausage roll.

 

I must have looked confused, probably because I was. It was sunny, but it was mid-autumn, and it sure wasn’t warm. How can someone not wear gloves in that setting – especially given the Billy can bang his big Gixxer along like an A-grader?

 

“He’s never worn gloves in all the years I’ve known him,” Duncan said. “Just hates them. Says he can’t feel the controls.”

 

“Come on,” Billy said. “Let’s get going.”

 

“He does that too,” Duncan smiled, pulling on his helmet.

“What?” I asked.

 

“Moves us along if he reckons we’ve been too long in one spot – and he always feels like we’ve been too long in one spot.”

 

And that was very much the case. Billy is a bloke who came to ride, and that’s what he’s doing, and since we’re with him, that means we’re doing it to. I decided Billy was my new Spirit Animal.

 

The glory that is the Ilford-Sofala-Bathurst road was next, but my bladder demanded emptying at Sofala. I waved the blokes behind me on, made a steaming fountain, jumped back on the Rocket and set myself the task of catching them before they got to Bathurst.

Talk about having one’s work cut out for one. The bastards could pedal some themselves – even the two blokes on the Harleys, Gary and Dave, weren’t hanging around. In my favour, it was Saturday, so there were less cops around – and if they were there, then they would be arresting and beating the blokes ahead of me – I also knew the road intimately, the tyres were warm, and my heart was pure.

 

And I caught them just before we hit the 80km/h sign – the same place where my mate Baron had cartwheeled his Speed Triple into oblivion a few years ago when a truck frightened him during a BikeMe! Pilgrimage.

 

We were an hour too soon for lunch.

 

“I’m going to the pub,” Billy declared.

 

“It’s a bit early,” Aaron observed.

 

“Wanna go look at the racetrack?” I asked.

 

The blokes who had not ridden the Mount Panorama track were just as keen as the blokes who had, so Billy went to the pub and we went to the Mountain.

 

Our timing was perfect. The Highway Patrol car was coming down Conrod as we stopped top take pics on the starting grid, and as he drove off into town, we rode up the mountain with grace and dignity. That track never fails to astonish me. Much greater men than I have raced motorcycle on that hellish tar, while scum like me howled and drank and fought and burned things just the other side of the Armco. It is a holy place.

 

We were at the pub bang on 12. Lunch was laughter and stories, and we were still wiping our mouths when Billy declared it was time to get petrol and get home.

 

“Not riding the Putty in the dark,” he declared, and because country boys (and one ring-in from the city) are not stupid, we agreed with him.

 

Aaron’s jacket had exploded, and he needed to be wrapped in duct-tape like a homeless man, much like my brother Darren has always needed to be wrapped when his ancient Alpine Stars jacket repeatedly dies at the zipper. The familiarity I was starting to feel for these blokes was quite unnerving.

 

It was a vile drone to Lithgow and then up the Bells Line – which was open, except for a bit after Mt Tomah which was one lane, governed by a traffic light. And the traffic was heavy.

 

We stopped for a quick bladder break on the other side of the light, while Billy sat on his bike and waited for us to shake off the drops, and maybe an hour before sundown, we made it to the start of the Putty.

 

And now it was going to be a race for home – as it right and proper among men who have ridden magnificently all day, and are now on their home track, and…well…you know how it is.

 

Billy was on a mission. And I was chasing him. Aaron was behind me, then Duncan, and Mitchell on his red ’Busa. I think the others were a little further back as we began our rather rapid climb out of the Colo valley.

 

I saw the two white cop-bikes with their distinctive LED owl-eye lights probably at the same time as everyone else, and certainly at the same time the cops saw us.

 

Yes, they were the same cops that, according to Facebook, had been at Grey Gums all day, drinking coffee with lickspittles, and then booking everything that rode when they’d had enough tongue action from their idiot fan-base.

 

I remain confused by riders who speak to cops, or pose on their bikes, or attend those idiotic Coffee With A Cop events the Highway Patrol cynically force upon hapless coffee-shop owners. What’s wrong with you that you feel a need to chat to the people who hunt you like animals?

 

Anyway, the cops knew we were going very quickly. They turned their lights on, according to the blokes behind us, who were also going quickly, but it’s not easy to turn around on that part of the Putty.

 

The trouble here was we had to stop for petrol at Colo Heights, and as we filled up the bikes, we were giggling like naughty schoolkids, while also wondering if and when the cops would show up and start charging us with high-range speeding offences. Of course, they were at the end of their shift, so maybe the felt the need for Maccas outweighed the need to raise revenue for the State.

 

But you never know. Options needed to be explored.

 

“Just tell them we were riding south to Windsor, and we have no idea what they’re talking about, and then tell them to fuck off,” I advised, as a veteran of many such situations.

 

That the blokes all felt this was a great way forward only made me admire and appreciate them more. And after a brief pause, and I do mean brief – Aaron just barely managed to gag down a chocolate bar – Billy was on his way home to Singo.

 

Those long straights between Colo Heights and Grey Gums are temptation writ large. You feel like you have to open it up if you’re any kind of man, and at the same time, you also know if an animal is going to jump out anywhere, it’s probably going to be here.

 

And it was that time of day. The sun was low behind the trees on my left, but Billy was sitting on a decent 150-160, and I figured he knew more than me about stuff, so I followed him. That was when Mitchell opened up his Hayabusa and dialled it up to over the double-ton, passing us both.

 

That was too high a stake for me at that time of day, and while I pursued for a bit – that Rocket has nothing to be ashamed of in any company – I was starting to see kangaroos everywhere. It’s a hallucination I now get after my close encounter in South Australia a few years ago. I see the bastards even when they aren’t there.

 

But this was now a freight train of velocity. We were in the Zone. Mouth dry, eyes wide open, stents keeping the heart-blood flowing, I ploughed on.

 

Marz eventually caught me in the Ten-Mile (funny how a well-ridden ZX-10 will always out-handle lots of things), and set off in pursuit of Mitchell, but I think Mitchell took the top podium step that afternoon. And it was all smiles and tiredness when we gathered at the big fig-tree (now hideously lopped) that marks the end of the Ten-Mile.

 

“We always stop here,” Duncan said to me.

 

“That’s funny,” I grinned. “I always stop here too.”

 

“You gonna write this up?” Billy asked.

 

“I’m going to try and do it justice,” I said.

 

“Make sure you say we do this every year in memory of Coxy.”

 

“I surely will,” I promised.

 

And then we went home.

 

My thanks to Duncan and Aaron for inviting me to their private race-meeting. It was a privilege and a pleasure to bang out those miles with you and your beaut mates. I hope I’m invited again. In the meantime, I have some people I think you’d like to meet and go for a ride with…

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Boris Mihailovic

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.

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