This will be my last major entry on this blog. I thought that I would make a kind of summary statement – and invite anyone who wants to discuss details more with me to get in touch before they try something similar. So here goes:
I have been a Honda and Suzuki man for a long time. I have used my ST1300 for a lot of touring and the DR650 for a lot of commuting and some off-road and gravel-road work. Looking back I think the R1200GS was the ideal compromise choice for this trip. Not as comfortable as the Honda, nor as capable in the dirt as the Suzuki, but really good at all ranges. This included cruising all day at 130kph in the Northern Territory to coping with dirt on the Gibb River Road.
Both bikes were reasonably reliable. I had a new starter motor fitted in Darwin, and a new temperature sensor fitted in Adelaide. Dick had a new battery fitted in Perth and needed a new oil-level sightglass fitted in Adelaide. Economy was good, generally sitting on 4.7 – 5.2 litres/100kms. For some reason Dick got better economy than me, even though our riding styles were pretty much the same. All up we did about 23,500kms in the three and a bit months.
One of the criticisms of the Beemers is that they are over-engineered (Too much computing?) I think this is a fair comment - especially compared to the DR650!! A couple of examples:
- the electrical circuit won't allow you to run a hefty current for any period of time so pumping up tyres with a compressor for example is difficult.
- one problem I had was with a temperature sensor. Even tho you have a temperature gauge on the dash, the bike also has a temperature sensor; if it thinks the bike is over-heating it shuts it down regardless of what the temperature gauge says. This was a real pain. Slow work through sand and rush hour traffic through Adelaide and she died. The fault was in the sensor itself! Grrrrrrrrr!
We both maintained good health through the trip. I had a case of the Darwin trots down the West Coast but apart from that we both did ok. I think a key to this was that we had no fixed schedule or finishing time.
Our overall plan was to stick to the coast as much as possible. We were a bit ambitious however regarding our ability to manage Australian dirt roads. They proved much more difficult that I had expected. As a result we did not go right to the top of Cape York and we avoided the Great Central Road from Kalgoorlie to Uluru. We struggled a bit on the Mereenie Loop from Uluru to Hermannsburg which we thought would take 5 hours or so (153kms) but actually took nearly two days and left us camping out on the side of the road. The big problem here was unseasonable rain which turned the road into a bog. But sand was probably our biggest challenge. The big Beemers don’t go well on sand – and we didn’t have the most aggressive possible tyres either. Rivers were a challenge but after an initial tumble when Helga and I went swimming we coped ok.
Apart from that we chose well and generally had a great time completing around 500kms in a typical day.
Our gear worked well. Dick would have preferred a more roomy tent but his was ok. We used just about everything that we took. I brought a bit of stuff back to NZ (my security cable and bike-cover for example) and we bought a bit of extra gear but we were pretty much ok.
Our GPSs (both Garmin Zumo 660s) were excellent. Dick’s didn’t survive falling off his bike at 100kph but then I probably wouldn't have done either. They were invaluable for negotiating strange cities and both had music loaded so could keep us going on the long and boring straights. Also very handy for locating accommodation and fuel in new locations. I went for the in-helmet Bluetooth system and it was great. Dick had a wired system which meant he had to remember to unplug on getting off the bike. He learnt quickly after pulling his bike over on one occasion.
I didn’t buy any new riding gear. Generally my jacket, helmet, trousers and rain suit coped ok. My boots (Canyons) were fantastic – comfortable and really waterproof. (Thanks Richard!)
We took gas stoves and some utensils but actually used them only occasionally. Mostly we had breakfast before we left and then ate out for the rest of the day. RSL and sports clubs were good.
We had our tents and air mattresses and probably used them every third day or so, especially in the northern half of the island. Other than that we went for cheap cabins, back-packers, motels and the occasional faded lady hotel in country towns. All reasonably good.
We met very few unpleasant aussies. We took a bit of stick for being kiwis but nowhere near as much I suspect as we dish out to aussies. Generally people were friendly and interested in what we were doing – especially the grey nomads!
It will have cost us around $3,000 each to ship our bikes Auckland – Sydney – Auckland. Sounds a lot but it would have been too expensive to hire (around $96 per day) and no one was interested in a “buy-back” deal in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. As a result we bought our bikes newish in NZ and had run up some 2,000kms before we left so we were pretty familiar with how they worked. So far shipping agents and customs have been great.
We also took our bikes under the Carnet de passage system arranged with NZ AA which meant we could travel on NZ registration plates and WOFs. We had to leave deposits with the AA to ensure that we brought the bikes back and didn’t dispose of them illegally. Hopefully this will be refunded (plus the interest earned) as soon as the bikes are cleared here in a few weeks time.
The service centres we went to (Darwin, Perth & Adelaide) were great. The bikes were well-serviced, new tyres and repairs where needed. Everyone was genuinely interested in what we were doing and courtesy cars were laid on to take us to airports etc. Also good coffee and facilities for waiting around and storage for our gear while we came back to NZ.
I have been asked this several times since getting home and it is really hard to answer – I suspect it was the Gibb River Road and the Mereenie Loop.
What a good question. India first up I think and then maybe Fairbanks in Alaska down the western seaboard to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. Maybe....