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August 2008 Club News

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Off Centre Rally August 2008 - the Busted Tour

Photos by Andy and John McKinnon and story by John McKinnon

The five bikes and riders togetherThe ride to the OCR at Lorella Springs turned out to quite an adventure, for my BMW R1200R and my son Andy's Yamaha Tenere as well as for a number of other bikes and riders. Only one of the five bikes and riders in this picture made it through unscathed. The distance involved was large for starters: 4,000 kilometres to the Gulf of Carpentaria edge via the Great Central Road and 5,000 kilometres back via the Nullarbor. Our timeframe was three weeks. Adrian came with us on his KTM 640 Adventure. After our first (wet and cold) day from Albany, we camped at Hyden and met up with Bob (Roodog) and Andy (Mole) from Perth, both riding R1200GS BM's.

The very Grand Hotel, KookynieWe then rode on to the highly recommended Grand Hotel at Kookynie, 26 km from the main Laverton road. It's well worth the trip and you can camp on the back lawn or in the nice-looking rooms in the old pub. It's also in the running for world's largest shower head in the ablutions. The beer was cold and the food was good. The next day saw the beginning of the dirt. We had an enjoyable ride up the back road from Kookynie to Laverton, which was lightly-used and firm gravel. It felt great to get on some nice dirt after the boring bitumen and into warmer weather.

The R1200R and me on the Great CentralThirty kilometres from Laverton on the beginning of the Great Central proper, the Mole was hospitalised and his new R1200GS was written off. The first loose gravel had got him into a high speed wiggle which flung him off. It looked like he'd got stuck in the loose stuff between ruts. Once we saw the Mole settled in hospital with his broken arm being attended to, we set off again, somewhat sadder for him. His head was bandaged too, so he really looked like he'd been in the wars. It was good luck that Blinky Bill the truckie had picked Mole and his bike up so quickly, and Bill continued his good deeds by taking the broken bike back to Perth. The rear swing-arm was snapped in half on the GS - no road-side repair possible. By the end of this ride, truckies were our mates.

The R1200R and me on the Great CentralWe rode on till dark that day past Cosmo Newbury and camped in the bush. Andy learned about lighting petrol fires (2 MB video). The road was firm gravel-based and was corrugated and harsh in places, causing anything loose on the bike to flap around, or make some things that you thought were not loose become that way - my left mirror continually came undone and my tankbag moved to the right side of the tank many times. The main hazard on these broader gravel bits was getting off-camber and having the front wheel slide trying to get back, and crossing the hump between defined smoother ruts in the gravel. The odd sandy section with a firm-crusted top was very pleasant under the tyres. I rode on the right hand side of the road and Andy rode on the left, so we could see each other but not get dusted.

Sunrise past WarburtonWe enjoyed the lovely hills and trees (6MB video) approaching Warburton, then camped 100km past Warburton, were we later discovered that the Bear had cached a bottle of port and a bottle of Merlot - if only we'd known at the time. We were treated to a warm night and nice sunrise, so that was some compensation. Next day was on to Docker River and the sand. With luck, we figured we'd be able to reach Ayer's Rock (Uluru) at the end that day. We'd been warned that it was very sandy on the NT part (about 200 km) of the road several times, but you can't compare people's descriptions of dirt roads easily. I remembered from when I rode my R75/6 to the 1982 Centre Rally that it was more difficult after Docker, and some guys on trailbikes saying it was a nightmare, but it wasn't too bad when we got into it with our roadbikes.

Bob, the GS and the sand at Docker RiverIn the first real stretch of soft sand Bob went down at about 80 k's an hour. He took the right mirror off with his ribs, and the GS had a flat front tyre, twisted front end, no windscreen any more, tank, indicator and instrument damage and some luggage torn off.  After enlisting the aid of the local copper and some guys with a Hilux ute we got the bike and Bob back to Docker, where he was able to get a truck to Alice. Andy, Adrian and I set off again feeling bad that we were two down now. But we had the challenge of the sand to deal with. The equation was  40kmh=no good, 80kmh=reasonable, 100kmh=excellent, so once I'd built up the courage to charge into the sand in 6th gear, Andy and I had a great time romping down the road side by side.

The Olgas at sunset There was the odd buck and weave to keep the sphincter toned. Andy reported the Tenere needed a downchange sometimes to keep the momentum up in the sand, and was envious of the huge torque of the BM 1200 motor at low revs. The sun was very low for the last half-hour or so, and mostly directly behind us so it was hard to "read" the track. You'd suddenly find the bike beginning to wiggle about and that would be the first you knew that you were in a sand patch. Andy only had a dark-tinted visor and he described the experience as "very sketchy". Adrian had a clear visor, and I had my Nolan combination clear and tinted visors which proved excellent for conditions like this, when I could just flip up the tinted half-visor and have a clear one underneath.

The Olgas at sunset So here we were, these three bush-camping, unwashed, grotty dust-covered riders among all the super-clean tourists drinking cold champagne provided by the tour companies and watching the sun set over the Olgas, now known as Kata Tjuta. They stared at us like aliens, but I  felt we had earned the right to be there by riding 1,200 km of dirt while most of them came in an air-conditioned plane, bus or four-wheel drive. We headed into the resort after dark, put up our tents and found a pub for food and drink. All extremely tourist-oriented, as you'd expect from a purpose-built tourist settlement, I suppose.

All legal speeds, honest officer...After camping in Yulara resort, we had and uneventful ride into Alice Springs 450 km away but all bitumen. Andy and I enjoyed legally cruising at 130kmh in the Territory, with Adrian hanging back a little in deference to the lower gearing on his KTM and knobbly tyres. We found a camping ground and made contact with Bob who was having his GS repaired in Alice, and the Bear and crew who were in the next camping ground to us. We then had to have a celebratory night on the tiles in Alice in places that were previously haunted by Centre Rally riders like the Todd Tavern, where famously in 1980 "Rubber Legs" (aka A. Powell) appeared on the dance floor.

The sump of horrorAfter spending some relaxed time looking around Alice next day, I was persuaded to go and have a look at a tourist lookout over the MacDonnell Ranges. I was warned by Adrian that there was a rock ledge near the top that might be hazardous to the BMW, but I made it up with no problems. Sadly for the BM and me, on the way down after sunset I approached the same rock ledge too fast and bottomed out the suspension right on top of the rock. There was a terrible crunch noise, but I kept riding for a short distance thinking I had only taken some fins off the bottom of the motor. Then I started to hear noises from the engine which made me turn it off, and watched in horror as the last of the engine oil dropped out of the now-fractured sump onto the red soil.

Andy gooing the semi-sealed sumpAdrian towed the BM back to the caravan park with my tow rope that I keep to tow Triumphs with. The next day was a holiday, but we contacted a welder who said he'd try to weld the sump back together. This was done after a day and a bit's welding - thanks Andrew at Mick Murray - but it was still leaking a lot of oil even though it now had the big black hole filled in. There was nothing for it but the liquid metal to cover the porous weld and remaining cracks - more thanks to Andy and John Henshall, and finally the BM was ready after another day for the 1,300 km final leg to the rally. Bob's BM was also repaired enough to ride - but no windscreen. The local bike shop had cheekily replaced the broken indicator with a pair of KTM indicators, saying that would be an improvement.

Visit to Daly WatersWe had now met with another father and son team: Peter and Jesse, and re-met Greg and Don from the last OCR at Gascoyne Junction. We travelled to Three Ways in a day, then called into the historical (hysterical?) Daly Waters pub on the way to Cape Crawford's Heartbreak Hotel, the jumping-off point for the last 130 km of dirt into the rally. The Chook Man entertained us at Daly Waters, singing with a chook (10 MB video), sorry, eagle on his head, and two drunken Irishmen, Niall and Kierren, kept people snorting with their attempts to ride the resident cow at Heartbreak's very nice camp-ground. Good rugged home-grown entertainment in the Territory - no animals were hurt in the process. It was the humans who were at risk of being literally crapped on in both cases.

Cow in love with BellyThere was a heartbroken cow next day when Belly left the camp-ground. And more than hearts were broken that day and the previous one on people and bikes going into the rally. Belly, Colin and F. Powell had already lost one of their group, A. Powell, who was hospitalised in Mt Isa after a tank-slapper on the bitumen. They didn't have any trouble on the 130 km of dirt, but many weren't so lucky. The first 100 km was firm gravel minor road, with some corners and creek crossings and the odd nasty rock or pothole to keep concentration up. The last 30 km of Lorella Springs' own road was difficult, with a number of soft, rutted sand stretches containing sometimes a rock or sharp pothole to complicate navigation. I found 80 kmh was my best sand-slithering speed.

Colin on left relaxed, Bob totally nackeredIn one of the sand stretches there were a couple of tents for a guy with a broken collarbone. The worst moment I had was when a sidecar came into a sand stretch from the opposite direction to me. He apparently had more faith in my ability to control the direction of my bike than I did, but we managed to miss each other. Which is more than could be said for a KTM at the rally site with a broken triple clamp from a head-on with another bike. Riders with heavily-laden R1100, R1150 and R1200 BMs were having a hard time getting through the sand. When Bob and the other guys arrived later they looked stuffed. Even the F650 BM's had problems, as shown by a written-off 650 Dakar at the entrance to the rally site, and the story of Jesse's bogged in the middle of the road.

Lorella campsite Lorella Springs proved to be a lovely spot. Bear and Dawn saw that we had made it, leaky BM and all, and then we had to register officially for the rally, organise tea and breakfast and have a celebratory cold beer and then find a nice shady spot next to the spring for the tent. People were bobbing around in the water (7 MB video). Fred Powell was kind enought to spend time sealing my sump better, so its 1 litre a day habit could be lessened. It was even warm enough to run the tent "topless", which was great for looking at the stars later that night. Not that some of the people returning from the rally party at 4am would have noticed the stars, would they Dawn? Dawn's RFDS fundraising inspiration (8 MB video) was to have a bra-size guessing competition and then a bra-off between the man who guessed closest and Andy and me who were next. Andy displayed amazing bra-destrapping speed.

Yammie on road train near Coober PedyThe next day Andy and I packed up and headed south, staying one night in the Daly Waters pub to catch up with our band of Bob, Peter and Jesse and Don and Greg who were going west to WA. Adrian went on ahead towards Alice. Our aim was to get back to Albany 5,000 kms away in 7 days. We then bored southwards for several days, and had got 2,000 kms back towards home just south of Coober Pedy in outback SA, when the gearbox seized on Andy's Tenere and its trip was over. We quickly scrounged a lift on a road train for the Yammie and Andy to Port Augusta, then we had to wait an afternoon and into the next morning to cadge a lift on a truck going to Perth. I followed Andy's trucks for two days and 1,200 kms, getting remarkable fuel economy (3.5 l/100km).

BM on old nullarbor road near NundrooNear Nundroo I found a section of the old Nullarbor dirt that I rode on when I first crossed the Nullie on my first BM, an R60/5, in 1973. I noticed that Allanah from NSW had ridden a similar R60/5 into Lorella Springs. That was a fantastic effort I thought, as I don't remember my R60/5 as being a good dirt machine. Now here I was on a double sixty: the R1200. In the intervening 35 years power, braking and handling had increased immensely, but not weight. The sump was still leaking, but the bike was feeling fantastic on the wide-open Nullarbor, punching through light rain showers and humming towards home. Andy's truck headed off at 2am towards Perth, and I did a personal best of 1,150 kms in daylight hours later that day. Next day was sunny Albany by 1pm.

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