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Old 06-02-2015, 05:34 AM   #1
Muddler OP
Studly Adventurer
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Joined: Dec 2008
Location: Dardanup, Western Australia
Oddometer: 797
TDM900 from SW WA to the tip of Cape York

I whinge and whine a lot about getting older. As part of this, a few years ago I decided it was on my bucket list to do a lap of Oz on my motorbike before I turned 50.This meant it had to happen in 2015. So I bought a nice 2003 Yamaha TDM900 with the intent of doing a mostly bitumen lap. Meanwhile, I did a trip through the Gunbarrel and Connie Sue Highways (on DRZ400) with riding comrades Fred, Rosco and John last year. During this trip, discussion started about doing a trip to Cape York. So I changed my bucket list, riding from SW WA to the tip of Cape York was equally worthy and would be more enjoyable travelling with mates. While I wasn’t intending to tackle any hardcore off-road stuff, some adventurisation of the TDM was still required: bash plate, engine guards, handguards, centre stand, pannier racks and Avon Distanzia tyres were fitted. I even changed the oil. In hindsight, more work on the suspension was also needed.

1. get to Broome

I left home near Dardanup at 5am Monday 5 May in cold rainy weather for a rendezvous with Fred, Rosco and John at Gingers Roadhouse just north of Perth . Getting through peak hour traffic on the Kwinana Freeway was probably the most hazardous section of the whole trip, so I was glad to survive that unscathed. Onwards up the Great Northern Hwy, with conditions slowly improving as we headed north. Our aim was to reach Broome early arvo on Day 3. We did 950km for the day, setting up camp north of Meekatharra.

Our target for the next day was Marble Bar, so we gunned it up the highway in cold windy conditions. Sitting on 120-130kmh in the wind, I was noticing a big drop in fuel economy on the TDM, with it dropping as low as 15km/l. Fuel range would be important later on, so it had me thinking whether my estimates of achieving 20km/l were overly optimistic. After refuelling bodies and bikes at the Capricorn roadhouse, we headed up the road to Nullagine. This was now new territory for me - the adventure had begun!

The road to Nullagine – Fred on his F800GSA crossing the Fortescue River

We stopped for another break in Nullagine, the weather was now noticeably warmer. Continuing north, we reached Marble Bar, set up camp and then promptly headed off to the Iron Clad hotel for dinner and beers. We retired back to camp when the locals seemed to be getting a bit messy....

The next day Rosco had devised a route north from Marble Bar, through Shay Gap and then up the Powerline Track. This was a nice dirt diversion which cut out a boring section of the Great Northern Highway.

Our first river crossing, the De Grey River

The track conditions were good, though there were signs that had we been travelling through here a few days earlier, conditions would have been quite wet and slippery. There was plenty of cattle out and about though, so you had to concentrate carefully that that "rock" or "ant mound" didn't suddenly walk out on the road in front of you. The Avon Distanzias I had fitted to my TDM were so far handling the conditions well. Towards the northern end of the track there were a few sandy sections which had me wishing I was back on my DRZ400, however I somehow survived unscathed.

Powerline Track

After rejoining the highway, it was a 3-4hr slog to Broome, very tedious.

2. the Kimberley

On reaching Broome, Fred was in a bad way with back and knee pain, so he was off to the ER for treatment. Ross had mates in town to catch up with, leaving John and I to find a suitable caravan park. We booked into the Roebuck Bay caravan park, which proved a good choice as the stairway to the moon festival was on right next door - no trouble finding a nice curry for dinner! The next morning was spent sorting out a few bits and bobs. I was off to the camping store, while John was off to the local motorcycle shop to get a new tyre fitted. Ross and Fred were swanning around town in a 4WD - shameful. John and I then did our obligatory ride on Cable Beach before leaving our 4 wheeled friends for Derby. Fred would get more medical attention and with a bit of luck he and Ross would catch up with us in Kununurra in 3 days.

While Ross and Fred were revelling in the creature comforts of Broome (notwithstanding Fred’s buggered knee and back), I felt relieved to leave - great resort town, but not what not my wallet or my heart desired this time around. We refuelled in Derby, had a quick look at the mudflats and then headed up the Gibb River Road. The road was in good condition with only minor corrugations. The TDM, being more road orientated was comfortable cruising at 90-100kmh. Heading down the Fairfield Leopold Downs Road to Windjana Gorge, the road deteriorated a little, making me concentrate a bit harder. We set up camp at the impressive Windjana Gorge and I went for a very brief swim with the freshwater crocodiles. It was great to spend my first night camping in the Kimberley bush.

The next morning we went further down the road to Tunnel Creek. This creek tunnels right through the side of a mountain. It was an interesting walk through to the other side, including wading through water with freshwater crocs.

We then had to retrace our steps back to the Gibb River Road before heading east over the Mt Leopold Ranges and on to the Mt Barnett Roadhouse to refuel. While I had an extra 5L jerry of fuel packed, I hadn’t factored in the extra kilometres to go to Tunnel Creek, so it could be tight on range. However, by cruising at 90km/h on the gravel, fuel economy dramatically improved, getting to Mt Barnett easily on the tank. Maximum range on my 20L tank, if taking it easy, seems to be 450km +. After refuelling, we went to the nearby Manning Gorge campgrounds. This was a really nice spot, with a nice waterhole suitable for swimming right next to the campground. John & I also walked through to the Manning Gorge waterfalls for a swim, getting in trouble with the caretaker for leaving a bit late in the day. It was worth it – great swim.

Manning Gorge Pool near Mt Barnett

Gibb River Road

Durack River

My biggest concern about travelling the Gibb River Road was whether my TDM (a road bike) would be capable of traversing the Pentecost River, which is the biggest river crossing and is right at the end of the road. I didn’t want to have to ride back towards Derby for 2 days with my tail between my legs. The first view of the Pentecost River with the backdrop of the Cockburn Ranges was very impressive. My worries weren't unfounded. John went first and he seemed to go in deeper than expected and lurch around on the rocky river bed. This was not confidence inspiring for me with a smaller front wheel and limited ground clearance.

Anyhow, after lots of flapping and flailing around, I made it across without drowning my bike or getting devoured by a crocodile. We then went on to El Questro. To my surprise, I had to cross the Pentecost again, and the water was just as deep, though not as wide. I was too stingy to pay the exorbitant camping fees, so I crossed the river for the 3rd time, leaving John to it while I headed on to Kununurra alone. Next morning I felt a bit despondent, leaving camp in the morning not knowing what time John would turn up and realistically thinking it was quite unlikely Ross and Fred would turn up until late in the day, if at all. So I burnt a bit of time doing chores around town. Coming out of Coles around 10am I was very surprised to see Ross roll into the car park. The boys had done a mighty effort yesterday, riding from Willare roadhouse to Home Valley. It was not without incident though, Fred having dropped his GS on a greasy section of roadworks along the GRR. This morning their only obstacle was the Pentecostal river crossing, which was survived despite a near miss (ie swim) by Ross on his Tiger.

All together again now, from Kununurra we targeted Timber Creek for the night, a relatively short run, but it gave us time to do a little maintenance on the bikes and to "rehydrate". I diverted to Lake Argyle on the way, an enjoyable ride with excellent scenery, including the lake itself.

3. Savannah Way

From Timber Creek we decided to try the Buchanan Highway as an alternate way to the Gulf. The road started off pretty rough, being rocky and corrugated. Our progress was slow and we were wondering if this may have been a mistake.

We weaved our way through the scenic Stokes Range and Jasper Gorge. By the time we reached Victoria River Downs station, road conditions had improved, but we now needed to be wary of bull dust.

We refuelled at Top Springs and the next section was 180km of good gravel road to the Stuart Hwy. This enabled faster speeds, but was somewhat boring. Up the highway a little way and we pulled into the Daly Waters pub for a few beers and camped the night. This was a pretty touristy spot, full of grey nomads and caravans.

After the dust of the Gibb River Road and the Buchanan Highway, the stepper motor on John’s Tiger 800XC was having issues. This is a known issue which has been engineered out in the latest model Tiger, but that was of little comfort to John. A liberal spray with electrical contact cleaner seemed to help. A fairly ho-hum 4hr ride on the slab of the Carpentaria highway to Borroloola was next.
In Borroloola John was able to visit the health centre and get some ointment for a delicate issue - enough said. With all our ailments, clearly this was an old fart’s group (a couple of references to Wild Hogs had been made by my wife before leaving home….). We then started our ride across the Gulf, down the Woolgorung Road towards Doomagee.

Creek crossing

Being very conscious that we were in prime time croc country, we pulled in to camp on the high banks of the Robinson River. It was safe for us to have a dip in the pool on the road, which had clear, flowing water - very enjoyable after a dusty hot ride.

After long stretches of gravel road (sometimes a bit like in the jarrah forest of SW WA), interspersed by creek crossings, we passed Hells Gate and then pulled in to refuel at Doomagee. I was impressed with this place; friendly service and the community seemed to be well managed. The roads were getting a bit trickier now; coming into soft sandy sections after a long stretch of gravel could catch you off guard – I had a couple of hairy moments.

Cattle mustering

Fred & Ross in deep thought: “mmmm, you’re right, Rob’s TDM is a really super bike. I think I’ll sell my Tiger/F800GSA and get one”. Well that’s my recollection?

The country opened up into black soil plains around Burketown and the wind became strong. Great cattle country, though they hadn’t had a good wet season this year. With thoughts of a pub meal and beers, we decided to press on to Normanton. Sure enough, Murphy then intervened, with roadworks detouring us through a cattle station. After opening and closing dozen gates we eventually rode into Normanton and straight to the Albion Hotel for a beer. We took the soft option and got rooms at the hotel.

John and I would now be heading for the tip while Ross and Fred intended to go latte sipping down the coast from Cairns. We said our goodbyes and hit the road, with strong cold winds making it hard work. We followed the main route to Cairns. The country looked dry until we hit the Atherton tablelands, which looked terrific. We eventually pulled up in Atherton, which seemed to be a mountain biking Mecca, and was about 10deg cooler. We found out later that Fred and Ross also followed our route, but pulled up earlier at Innot Springs and got ANOTHER room - soft!
The ride into Atherton was good fun with lots of winding bitumen.

4. Cape York

We had no idea what Fred and Ross were now up to, but John and I intended to take the Bloomfield track to Cooktown. From the tablelands there were many many km of superb winding bitumen down to Mossman. This place is a road bike riders paradise – a real highlight of the trip! We visited Mossman Gorge National Park, then onwards to the ferry across the Daintree River. After this there was more magnificent tropical rainforest of the Daintree. The greater Cairns region impressed me big time – a very special place.

Bloomfield Track. Lots of windy and steep dirt road, with terrific scenery.

Canetoad biscuit!

Cooktown . The winds were strong by the coast so we replenished our stocks and moved on to Endeavour Falls for the night where it was a bit more sheltered.

It rained overnight, so we woke up with wet gear and some trepidation on what the track conditions might be like. Battle Camp Road was an interesting ride. Road maintenance since the wet season had not commenced so we needed to be wary of gutters and sand drifts. We were surprised/disappointed to find that the Lakefield NP was still closed for wet season. I think what this really meant was they hadn't yet finished their maintenance works. So instead of heading up that way, we had a fairly boring ride up the Peninsular Development Road. We pulled in early at Coen so we could dry our gear out and do a bit of maintenance on our bikes. $5 for a nice camp site and then a couple of beers at the Sexchange Hotel was hard to beat

I discovered some loose bolts on my bike, luckily I was able to avert losing my muffler. A reminder that I'm riding a road bike and need to take it a bit gently through the rough stuff if I want to get it back without calamity. John’s Tiger was also giving more problems with his stepper motor, something that would plague him for the whole trip.

We hit the Portland Roads Road to Chilli Beach. This was a windy road with many dips and creek crossings which kept the speed down, particularly for me on the TDM, my discovery of missing bolts yesterday was still weighing on my mind that I would need to baby her along if I wanted to reach the tip. This section would have been a lot more fun on a lighter dirt bike like my DRZ400. The Iron Ranges were impressive and at times reminded me of parts of Tassy (where I come from).

As we got closer to the coast we hit more magnificent rainforest. We headed up to the Lochart River Community to get some fuel and were confronted by a mob of locals having a blue in the main street. The town was a mess also, quite sad. We refuelled as quickly and quietly as we could and got the hell out of there. Then it was up to The Portland Roads Cafe for a refreshment - no dice, too early in the season. Oh well, it's off to Chilli Beach to set up camp. Despite the weather still being pretty ordinary, it was a very impressive spot, well worth the ride.

Meanwhile, John received a message that Fred and Ross had ridden down the coast to Townsville, no doubt enjoying more lattes, beers and motel rooms!

After a windy wet night we packed our gear and braced ourselves for a slow ride back out on the Portland Roads Road. We debated tackling the Frenchmans track, but the Pascoe River crossing was likely to be challenging, so we gave that a miss. Talking to other people further along on the trip, I think we made the right call – it was too early in the season and our bikes too big.

Onwards up the Road we refuelled and got some lunch at the Bramwell Roadhouse - excellent burger. We decided against tackling the Old Telegraph Track on the TDM – Again, I think this was the right call

So it was the Bamaga Rd after Bramwell, which was punishing on the TDM with bad corrugations on the corners, sand and corrugated sand. My phone holder snapped its mount, but very lucky for me I found the phone dangling by the charging cable down by the front wheel. This increased my general paranoia as to whether my bike would last the distance. We stopped for a swim at Fruit Bat falls - very nice.

Crossed the Jardine Ferry - $39 return.

Then on to Bamaga and the Siesta Park campgrounds, which were very nice, right by the beach. The horses seem to free range around here, with one trying to scrounge some food out of my top box.

The big day! I packed up my gear and we headed out to the tip. To my surprise, it was tropical forest most of the way, with a slow loamy track – nice ride.

It was low tide, so we walked around the beach, climbed a few rocks and we were there!

It felt terrific to be there – mission accomplished! Tick that one off the bucket list
We stopped at the croc tent on the way out. John was going to hang around another day, so we said our goodbyes and I hot footed it south. As reward for surviving the Bamaga rd, I was eyeing off another burger at Bramwell, then beers at Coen.

5. paying my dues

I got off to an early start from Coen and was travelling well. I went through one dip a bit hard as I didn't notice a lump of sand in it and the rear of the bike got airborne. I pulled over to check for damage, and discovered a broken arm on my pannier frame. I did a pretty rough splint with a small branch and tie wire and that got me all the way to Cairns. Other casualties for the day were a missing bolt from my Barkbusters and a lost Spork.

So it was a relief to hit tar after Laura as I was wondering what else would break next. Total kilometres for the trip were just on 10,000kms, I needed to do an oil change a fit a new rear tyre. I stopped in at 2 Wheels n Wear in Mareeba and received excellent friendly service. A big thanks to Aaron for letting me do my oil change in his workshop. It then rode down the hill (what a great view!) into Cairns for the night. For some reason I was struggling to find a park (no phone nav – broken holder), but I eventually pulled into one on dark. Unfortunately I seemed to have picked the party park – it was wall to wall back packer vans – not really my thing. My next casualty was the frame on my glasses breaking in two. I won’t be spending the extra money on titanium frames again….

Next morning I caught up with a bit of washing, had Maccas for brekky, and checked out the beach. I was considering heading down the coast to Townsville, following Fred and Rosco’s route, but it was getting hot and humid and it was only about 10am, so I decided to seek cooler higher ground. I took the Gillies Hwy to Atherton, which was another great run.

Gillies Hwy

I found someone to fix my pannier frame in Ravenshoe. This simple welding job was very thorough, taking nearly an hour ($$). Still, it was a relief to have it fixed, I wouldn't be quibbling the money if I was stuck out in the boondocks. The plan was now to head south through Lynd and Hughenden to Winton. South of Lynd was a fair bit of dirt, which was good condition at first, but then deteriorated into frequent bull dust patches and corrugations.

I was running out of light, so when I saw a sign for the Porcupine Gorge campground, I ducked in there for the night.

In Hughenden, I pulled up to oil my chain and realised I had lost my steering head stem nut - oh shit! While the top triple clamp was still held in place via the fork clamps, I wasn't about to tackle the Plenty Hwy and Great Central Road without some sort of fix in place. But first breakfast - a nice coffee and egg n bacon sanga. The guy at the local motorcycle shop was very helpful, but couldn’t fix my missing nut problem so it was on to Winton – very carefully!

I was about 1/2 hour out of Hughenden when breakfast started settling in. This wasn't going to wait. Sure enough, after riding the last 5000km through mostly wooded country, I was now in open plains. I spotted a small clump of dry bush, which offered very little in the way of privacy and went for it.

Murphy then got me again - after having seen very little traffic, a grey nomad driving a Ford Territory and van trundled by. I just put my head down and pretended I wasn't there.
In Winton I chased down the local motorcycle shop, Central Motors. Again, these guys were very helpful. They didn't have a nut to fit (28 x 1.0mm thread), but rang half the shops in Queensland to find a solution (a big thanks!). It turned out that the nut would be a back order from Yamaha - too long. I devised another plan to run a bolt up through the centre of the stem and secure the top clamp this way. The local engineering firm fixed this up for me.

This was a big relief, because plan C was to ride home via the bitumen. With my bike remedied, I headed off to the roadhouse for petrol and some lunch. Whilst chowing down a sausage roll, a Ford Territory drove in – ooooh. He saw me eating lunch and commented I was the only vehicle he saw on that road (great!). After a friendly chat over our travels, he either didn't see what I was actually doing, or he was very polite?

6. good vibrations? - the Donohue & Plenty Hwys

Finally on the road again, I headed off towards Boulia. This was now fairly open cattle country and there weren't a lot of camping options, but I was rapidly running out of light. I ended up camping in an old roadworks laydown area near dark.

In the morning I rode into Boulia for a coffee and a snag roll, then onto the Donohue. This was good at first, but later on I hit a sandy/ bull dusty patches going a bit fast and came close to coming off. I fuelled up at Tobermory station and continued on on the Plenty Hwy. This road was a mixture of good, rough stony, corrugated and sandy conditions. The TDMs front end continued to cop a real pounding through a lot of this. At times the vibrations were so bad I thought I might lose my grip on the handlebars – I really should have done some suspension work before this trip….

Plenty Hwy

I got half hour or so past Jervoise, then camped in the bush again. Zero marks for site selection, after unpacking my gear I realised the site was riddled with small, spiny burrs guaranteed to puncture my Exped mattress. I did my best to clear the site, but was still not confident, so in addition to the usual tarp under the tent, I laid out my riding trousers and jacket under the mattress. To my surprise, I woke up in the morning with air still in my mattress. Not that I slept that well, bush camping on my own tends to make me a bit edgy.

Hartz Ranges

It was a pretty cold morning and I noticed the bike was a little slow to start – I hoped this wasn’t going to become an issue. I don't think the heavier oil they use up in Cairns was helping. The corrugations got worse in the morning and it was a relief when the last 90k of bitumen came up. I zipped down the Stuart at NT speeds. In Alice I checked latest comms. John was in Townsville, still having stepper motor issues. Fred and Ross were now home. Their report for the Great Central Road was that the first 100k of sand was a bit tricky, but all good after that, but don't do it if rainy. Sure enough, rain was now forecast (60% likelihood). I may have to detour down along the Nullarbor - ugh, I really didn't want to do that, I've already done it 3 times and I've yet to do the GCR. Well I didn't have to decide yet, I would keep heading towards Ayers Rock. I set up camp at Curtin Springs (because it's free) and light showers started that evening. This and my worrisome steering head (not sure how much more of a pounding it would tolerate on the GCR) were the nail in the coffin, tomorrow I would look at the Rock then head back to the Stuart Highway, which would probably cost me another day.

I woke up to rain, not good. Stuart Hwy was still looking likely. Packed up and headed out to look at the rock in the rain.

It was out to the Olgas next, where I would make a final decision on my route home. The weather had now started to clear, so I decided to give the GCR a go. It certainly was sandy at first but after a while I got into the groove and was able to punt along at a reasonable pace.

While the corrugations were bad, it was nice country and an interesting ride to the WA border. The corrugations did take their toll, I stopped to adjust one fork leg which had moved down through the triple clamp. While doing this I noticed I had a broken pannier frame rear brace, which I was able to fix with zip ties. On reaching WA, the road improved dramatically. Having won back 1 1/2 hrs, I realised I would be able to make it to the Warburton Roadhouse.

Rain overnight again. My stupid phone automatically changes time zones for every state except WA, so I got up miles too early. I had a good run to the next roadhouse, where I was glad that the worst of it was over and I could just focus on getting home. Boy, was I wrong! On getting to the roadhouse, I was informed there had been a heap of rain in the Laverton area and the GCR was a mess. There has been a rollover and a jack-knifed caravan. I decided to push on, but take it very carefully through the slippery sections.

As I was slowly (very slowly) driving through the worst section, I spotted a handful of old yellow Skoda cars and bikes. A bunch of young Euro lads were on a big world tour adventure. Their first question to me was why am I riding so slow? “Err, because I don’t want to fall off.” (they had had a couple of falls already) I ask them: “what’s it like ahead?” They say ‘its bad, the same for the next 200km”. Actually, it improved quickly after I left them, so it might have got a bit ugly for them after I left. Hopefully no broken bodies.

While easier going now, it seemed to take forever to reach Laverton. There had clearly been a lot of rain with roadside drains full. The last few thousand kilometres of sand, corrugations, rocks and mud had taken their toll on my bike. This was all part of the adventure, but I just had home in mind now, so it was a relief to hit the bitumen.

I got a cheap donga out the back of the Menzies pub, enjoyed a nice meal and a couple of beers at the bar. Next morning, it was home via Merredin, Narrogin and Collie. It was a memorable trip, saw some great country, faced a few challenges, but 3 weeks and about 15,000km later it was great to be home. The TDM is now in the shed with the forks and steering head removed for a bit of a freshen up!

Muddler screwed with this post 06-14-2015 at 03:49 AM
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Old 06-02-2015, 08:21 AM   #2
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Well done - thanks for taking the time to post.
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Old 06-02-2015, 08:57 AM   #3
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Awasome adventure, brought back many great memories, well done.
Master brewer will be jealous, we have yet to take his TDM to the tip
Riding keeps me sane, but only just.
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Old 06-02-2015, 02:38 PM   #4
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Excellent ride, Rob thanks for sharing

The TDM is one special machine

Unfortunately for me a couple of work related prolapsed discs have caused me to rethink my adventure riding, as taking the heavy TDM back into challenging country could make life very difficult.

I'm glad someone else has taken up the baton for off roading TDM's.
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Old 06-02-2015, 04:46 PM   #5
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Thanks for sharing Rob, a great report and a great challenge, glad to see you have ticked off an item in your bucket list.

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Old 06-02-2015, 06:29 PM   #6
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Wow, great ride and great ride report, very inspirational.
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Old 06-03-2015, 02:22 AM   #7
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Ripper report. Well done.
Marty F
'13 Triumph Sprint GT; '14 BMW G 650 GS
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Old 06-03-2015, 02:30 AM   #8
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Good going there Rob, a great ride report as usual, a bit on the soft side though, , what is next on the bucket list / agenda?
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Old 06-03-2015, 02:48 AM   #9
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Great ride and ride report. You did really well.
**** Doing Epic Shit When Nobody's Looking Since 1973 ****
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Old 06-03-2015, 03:44 AM   #10
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Good job mate.
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Old 06-03-2015, 04:10 AM   #11
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That was great. Thanks mate.
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Old 06-03-2015, 06:04 AM   #12
Muddler OP
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Originally Posted by 59DEN View Post
Good going there Rob, a great ride report as usual, a bit on the soft side though, , what is next on the bucket list / agenda?
Thanks Dennis and others.
Yes, a softer ride, but still with its challenges, mostly due to my poor maintenance/engineering skills!
Nothing on the agenda ATM. Probably shorter rides for at least the next 12mths
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Old 06-03-2015, 08:02 AM   #13
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great ride report, I would love to ride up to the cape one day.
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Old 06-03-2015, 04:53 PM   #14
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What a bastard! You roll two or three great rides into one fucking awesome adventure!

"Motorcyclist are always going to be frowned a pond..." an inmate in the AUS group

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Old 06-03-2015, 05:14 PM   #15
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