Articles

Published on December 18th, 2006 | by Andrew McClymont

BORIS’S 2006 XMAS ROAD PARTY

Son of Elvis’s Story

Boris? Hasn’t ridden for sixteen months? Ha! What a big girl. It has been five years since I sold my Suzuki GSXR-750L, and I haven’t ridden anything with a motor since. This was something I had managed to keep quiet (and still have (?) up until right now) from Mick and Boris. (I told Mick it had ‘only’ been 18 months when he tapped me for the BIKE ME! job. Liar pants.)

So I figured I would be a little rusty when I was invited on Boris’ Christmas ride.

“But I don’t have a motorcycle, I keep telling you ?”

“Well, you must ride mine” offered Sir Mick Hodge, the most generous man in the known universe.

“And I have to be back in town on Friday”, I responded weakly.

“Shut up, weak, spindly Son-Of-Elvis. Just turn around when we get half-way. You simply must come; Boris has decreed it; there will be no further discussion.”

So I pulled up to Mick’s place in the early gloom. And it was early, not even half-past early, but an early that involved actually getting out of bed when there was a four-shaped digit looking back at me from the alarm clock. I couldn’t be late, though – Boris would be leaving at 7.00 on the dot, which meant Mick’s at 5am.

I was of course, perfectly on time, at 5.07.

Micks’ 2006 GSXR-1000 looked like some sort of bulimic athlete, parked next to the bulk of the test-sled GoldWing.

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It’s so fast, dirt can’t stick to it.

“Y’know the Gixxer’s had a bit of work – new exhaust system, the gear indicator is all wrong ’cause it’s been de-restricted, so watch out – if you hit the gas the front will still come up even in sixth…”

Jesus H., it’s a wonder I didn’t soil my pantaloons there and then. I had no intention of hitting the gas that hard in any gear, let alone top. Really, what kind of crazy man hops up a GSXR-1000 with only 1500k on the clock, anyway? My answer spoke again:

“Right then!” said the Hodge.

“Go easy on me for the first couple of kays, hey?” I begged.

Fat chance.

Mick went easy for about, lets see, 500m (i.e. to the end of his street), checked to see I’d made it that far, and then resumed being Mick. The winding, semi-rural roads around Sydney’s far north were, in retrospect, the perfect way to return to knees-up, elbows down, tunnel-vision, what’s-a-speed-limit?-motorcycling. But while Mick was busy being Mick (an occupation that involves ignoring everything and everyone including state and federal legislation and therefore riding at whatever speed and manner he deems fit), I had the advantage of following (?) him stuck on the world’s least sporting motorcycle, and I on arguably the most.

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It’s big, it’s fast, and it has an enormous arse. As does the Goldwing.

So, in spite of being led by a madman bent on single-handedly re-enacting the Manx TT, and with my sphincter firmly clenched, I managed to keep up with the big guy. Once I had figured that several of the six gears on offer were fundamentally redundant, it all started coming back to me. Really. I found that I had also learned a lot more about corners from several years of downhill mountain-biking. No, really. I had learned how to get off the brakes early, how to rail, and when to drag the back brake, but most importantly, the large friendly words that flashed trough my cerebral cortex when one travels too fast into a corner ? DON’T PANIC.

So when I did get on the gas out of a bumpy corner and the Gixxer shook its head like an overgrown paint mixer, I didn’t. Panic.

Although I really, really wanted to.

Somewhere on the first big sweeper out of Windsor, I could relax enough to finally start paying attention to the speedo – how can I put this in a non-incriminating fashion? Let’s just say that Mick had noted several other speed limits that he’d seen around town, and decided that added together, they would do. But the GSXR handles foolishly well. It was that feeling of being suspended, almost cushioned, on each side – the lean angle was irrelevant, I just gently tipped it over to whatever was required to go around the bend and found no effort was necessary to get the thing to go down, and very nearly none to get it back up, either.

“How far have you had this thing over?” I asked the Hodge later.

“On the road? Off the back tyre.” he snickered modestly. I feverishly hoped not to find out what THAT was like myself, but the idea of 110kgs of Mick pushing on a single centimetre of rubber, and completely failing to go arse-up, was strangely reassuring. The thing was like mobile Araldite.

When we pulled into the now-abandoned servo at Colo River, I had a grin on my face that I had up until now reserved for special, medically-supervised occasions. Much to Mick’s surprise, we were the first there, it wasn’t raining, I had indeed kept up, and importantly, I had failed to do anything stupid to his $18,000 motorcycle.

In due course, anyone else with a brain, a motorcycle, and the ability to have Friday off started gathering for the inaugural BIKE ME! Christmas Road Party. And so on, numbers building, until the stillness of early morning Colo River was cleft in twain by the arrival of an enormous Serbian, complete with open-face nut-case, bandanna, mirrored goggles, and mounted upon an even more enormous Boulevarde.

“BAAAAAAHHH!!!” bellowed Boris politely, in lieu of a simple “Good morning everybody, nice to see you” etc.

And there was much rejoicing among the assembled.

In stark contrast, an asthmatic wheezing sound of a tiny petrol engine could just be heard approaching in the distance, heralding the arrival of a certain Tim, on a bike roughly the same size and weight as its rider.

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Why are these people smiling? Don’t they know how early it is? It’s so early colour hasn’t been invented yet.

Much taking of group photos, discussion of who had been left behind, or not able to come, until, like a herd of restless buffalo, it was zip-up and sod-off time.

In a gasoline haze, we were off up the infamous Putty Road, as foretold in legend, written in stone, at the very apex of 0700 hrs. Well, most of us were, as I noticed Tim scrabbling around in the dirt.

“I’ve lost an earplug!”

“And your point is?” I thought to myself, until I realised he meant one of those hideously expensive, custom-moulded-iPod-compatible earplugs which almost certainly cost more than his bike. Being the new guy, I stopped, got off and helped him look, all the while knowing I would now never see Boris’ arse again, well, at least until the Boulevarde’s tiny tank needed more fuel – say, in about 30km’s.

“Probably fallen into your jacket”, I offered to Tim, as a late Klink swept past us, frantically gesticulating like a Gestapo general, and generally looking German.

Tim found his plug (in his jacket) and off we went, me on a bike that should probably be illegal it’s so good, and Tim on a thing which should have been illegal for other reasons.

That situation lasted about 12 seconds. Remember, I hadn’t been on a bike for FIVE years, Mick had disappeared, and the Putty, from memory wasn’t the place to go flat out when you are that rusty they are selling you for scrap. Still, I wasn’t so rusty that a ZZR-250 handicapped by a full-sized man was going to stand between me and going in and out of corners VERY FAST.

So I did. And then, like an idiot, inexplicably I stopped again.

I had caught Minoz and Suzi fuelling up at a tiny servo (where I remembered having been stranded once for about a year with a flat-tyred GPz-750). Having no idea how much fuel Mick had given me, if I had a reserve switch or a fuel light or if Micks bikes even ran on gasoline, I thought best to fill up.

“Wozgoinon’ere?” slurred the half-awake proprietor as I handed over my $5.26 (thanks Mick).

“Mobile Christmas party!” I explained, as I happily left to join the others, who had, to coin a phrase, fucked off.

Bastards.

Right, no prisoners now, the GSXR and I were off, and starting to become good friends.

Very good friends. The sort of ‘friendship’ that usually involves a lot of hand-holding, some poetry, and dinner and a show (at first, anyway).

We rounded up the fleeing fools that had left me to fend for myself. Numbers appeared on the speedo that I had never actually seen on a speedo before, because I knew if there wasn’t a large, flashing pile of Borismickklink beside the road, then I could speed at will. Then, far too soon, the Halfway House appeared, which I overshot by a kilometre or so, if for no other reason than I wanted to show everyone already there that I wasn’t actually dead.

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Coffee! I need coffee, in order to do stupid things faster.

Like a bunch of noisy storm-troopers, we descended on the coffee-dispensing interior. Boris moved the Boulevarde out to the front of the truck stop and it looked just that; a truck, stopped.

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This is what young trucks do on their days off.

Much talk ensued of where the Pleece Farce, if they existed, where they were likely to be, and why Mick was looking like he had just popped a small, unripe lemon into his mouth. Was it because a) he was unnaturally aboard the largest and ugliest of all the bikes present? Or, b) because Boris was keeping up on the straights and the corners? Or even, c) because he had foolishly loaned me a motorcycle that was absolutely manufactured purely for the purpose of such roads as the Putty?

I suspected ‘c’, and quietly slipped away to take photographs of the hulking Boulevarde.

Without warning, in another unrehearsed re-enactment of a buffalo stampede, it was buckle-up ‘n’ bugger-off time, lest one get caught at the back again. However, given the degree in zipper-ology that I needed to get back into my gear, it was Tim-of-250 who led me, last again, out onto the best piece of motorcycle road for yards around. Not for very fucking long, though.

“Listen to that on your iPod”, I thought as I sailed past the gasping 250 like its wheels were square. The GSXR rounded the others up, one-by one, on this fantastic bit of tarmac. I crouched on the balls of my feet, grinning inanely and jumping from side-to-side through corners like a stripe-assed baboon that has spent too long with his face in the red cordial trough and now it’s mating season. This fine machine was doing all the work, and I was simply its willing passenger.

To be fair, I followed each individual for long enough to try and not intimidate them by being all over their mirrors like a fast, black, GSXR-ish kind of fast thing. But if they failed to go round a corner at the same stupid speed that a bike which has won as many awards as the GSXR-1000 does, than they simply had to go.

At one stage I found myself heading fast into a fast sweeper at several km/h, the number of which isn’t even allowed on some speedometers. In fact, a little too fast. Actually, a lot too fast. I was momentarily worried. So worried, in fact, some poo wanted to come out of me. Fortunately before it did, the Don’t Panic mantra took over, and the GSXR and I simply cranked over and shot out the other end, both of us unsoiled, although right up the arse of Busababe’s ‘Busa.

Ahh! A Hayabusa, I suspected, should provide some duelling entertainment. It’s bigger, faster, and its pilot is vastly experienced. But Busababe didn’t get to actually be so experienced by being a village-idiot-with-its-fear-gland-temporarily-disabled like me, so I politely slipped past when she was looking the other way.

Al, our fabled web-guru, his toes dangling mysteriously off BIKE ME!’s test Yamaha FJR-1300, had to go too. Admittedly, he was being physically restrained by a lead-lined Brando jacket from the 80’s that weighed almost as much as me. Logana too, several generations of GSXR separating his from mine (alright, Mick’s) was next, but I try and play nice with my new friends, giving as much of a gesture as my left paw can muster at speed, to those in the GSXR’s haze.

So it went on, the endless sweepers of the northern Putty, one challenge after another, and my old skills slowly returning. Even my skinny, old man’s bum was providing feedback, not that the wide seat wasn’t comfy. Finally, after what seemed like more corners than I had ever been around in my entire life, the Putty descended on to the Hunter plains, and Lo! I had THEM in my sight: Klink’s Buell, and Mick and Boris masquerading as two halves of a small truck that had somehow become separated. And I’m catching them, CATCHING THEM!

Because they are stopping.

Damn.

To Boris’ relief, the Putty has failed to kill or maim anyone. I was impressed that he had actually pulled up to make sure we had all made it through the twisties. His recent return to riding had clearly damaged his more usual sense of compassion. So, also, my return to bent-road motorcycling was over for the present.

From here, we rejoin civilisation in the shape of the New England Highway, and fly towards Singleton like so many cartoon Tasmanian Devils, all whirling dust and electricity. I get to ride next to His Mickness, who moves to the back seat, obviously just to relieve the boredom of travelling faster than anything else around us. I haven’t had so much fun travelling in a straight line where getting airborne wasn’t involved. I wave one wind-assisted arm at him, gorilla-style, implying that he’s as mad as Mad Jack MacMad, winner of the All-England Mad Contest. Mick responds by engaging cruise control, folding his arms, and steering 400kg’s of GoldWing with his knees, wavering back and forth over the centre line at his ‘touring speed’. I’m wrong. He’s madder than Mad Jack.

As the temperature climbs, Mick and Boris apparently try and break some sort of record between Singleton and Muswellbrook. The GSXR, referred to by Mick as his touring motorbicycle, justifies this title on the dual carriageway. It is, in fact, verging on the comfortable, if you’ve been practicing your yoga. There are numerous positions available, and an arm-relieving menu consisting of chest-on-the-tank-relaxing-with-elbows-on-knees for main course, followed by sit-up-in-the-refreshing-breeze for dessert. The fairing is excellent, the speed makes it invaluable.

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Mick ponders the error of his generosity. I ponder selling a kidney for $18 000.

Having fuelled up, eventually we stop talking about important things like flower arrangements and start talking about bikes, just for a change. I say to Mick:

“Your touring motor-bicycle seems to hunt a bit at small throttle openings?”

“What? Who? Sorry, I don’t understand the question.”

“Well you know, when you’ve just got the throttle open a little bit, it doesn’t settle.”

“Nope, you’ve lost me again. Say that bit about small throttle opening again?”

“Listen closely. If I just have the throttle op… oh, I see.”

I don’t know how many gazillion kilo-thingies this particular GSXR-1000 puts out, but if there is someone who knows how to use them, I can only imagine that it is its large and British owner.

It’s only 11am, and I don’t need to back in Sydney ’til mid afternoon.

“COME TO WILLOW TREE”, croaks Boris, who could whisper gently and still need capital letters, “THEY HAVE BEER”.

Another spontaneous stampede ensues, and although this time I’m zipped-up and helmeted, Al, Tim, and I get caught by a set of lights. I have absolutely no idea where or how far this so-called Willow Tree is, if it even exists. Consequently, I follow Tim, with Al behind. This is no good. Tim has to lodge plans ahead in triplicate to the local council, wait for approval, sign off on any changes, and employ a contractor before he can overtake anything.

Old ladies on tricycles are laughing at me as they fly past. Eventually, following a small roadside conference, I trick Al into leading the way to the mythical Willow Tree. Al shows me a handy trick when we come to one of those road works where they’ve blocked off a lane, and it’s one-way traffic. We lane-split to the front of the queue, but pull up behind the first car at the lights.

“If there are cops enforcing the 40km/h limit, best that we follow a tin-top, not make ourselves obvious” is the unspoken thought. Brilliant.

Willow Tree, turns out to be a one-pub hotel 40 clicks from Tamworth.

Jesus, I’ve been up since 4am, I have travelled 340kms and it’s not even lunch time. What am I doing 40k’s from Tamworth?

Well, for a start, I am having a gigantically cold Coke, dispensed from a traditional sticky-floored hole-in-the-wall bar, by a grumpy, sandblasted publican. I’ll be thinking only of him next time Ray Martin says ‘Aussie battler’.

Second, I call my lovely wife, “I’m 40k’s from Tamworth and I’m still alive!” I blurt, both of which come as a complete surprise to her.

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“Is that Andrew’s wife? Look, we’ve tried to kill him but he won’t die.”

“Is that Andrew’s wife? Look, we’ve tried to kill him but he won’t die.”

Thirdly, I’ll be taking a few snaps before heading home. Boris demands a group shot, and leads those assembled in an arm-folding-and-looking-serious competition, which for some reasons erupts into a Seig Heil Saluting Festival. I don’t know why. Blame Klink. Boris and Mick hold court in the shade of the pub’s veranda. It really is very good to be alive, and I say so. For a change, no one argues – not even Mick. I want to have his babies.

Drinks are drunk, and inevitably, the buffalo become restless. I promise Mick that I’ll return his bike, unscathed, sometime in March, 2011. In a cloud of threats and obscenities, they are off. It’s as if a plague of large, angry locusts had arrived on motorcycles, eaten nothing but beer, swarmed about a bit to annoy the locals, and then, just as angrily, departed.

As the noise dies down I take a quick, unloving look around Willow Tree, which takes nine seconds. Pointing south, the GSXR and I have a date with the Old Pacific Hwy. There we shall majestically attempt to keep up with girls on R1s! But that, as they always say, is another story. Much later, I simply have a date with a bed. I dream curious dreams of strange corners on fast bikes.

“Motorcycles of Earth! Pay attention! I’m back…”

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