Reflections of a Novice Rider's First Tour - North Island NZ

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Sytadel, May 18, 2013.

  1. Sytadel

    Sytadel Adventurer

    Aug 16, 2012
    My instructor never had the heart to say it, but I was one of the slowest learners he'd ever had on a motorcycle. I took weekly/fortnightly lessons for about four months before finally getting my license. Before riding, I had not so much as driven a manual car, and mechanically I struggle to understand even the humble bicycle. By the end of my training, I took a test and my instructor - friends with the assessor - benevolently bent the rules so I was able to pass my test in spite of stalling twice.

    I took to the roads with nerves of copper. Every unexpected stimuli or mistake conducted through my veins like wildfire. I treated the bike with the untrusting reticence of a cheated lover, ready to be thrown off for even the slightest indiscretion. Every backfire, throttle blip, or suspension squeak made my asshole pucker and filled my mind with thoughts of death. Between the fear were moments of fun. Only fun and a tendency to self-loathe kept me going.

    I've been farting about my home-town, Perth, Western Australia, for about eighteen months on a 250cc Tu250x called "Shirley." She has been through some sand, once even a puddle, but is mostly a pristine psuedo-cafe used by and large for twelve-kilometre "I slept in and missed the bus" commute on asphalt. Girls who knew absolutely nothing about motorcycles think the Tu250 is a formidable beast. To my riding friends, it's one faux-wicker basket and a pair of training wheels away from being a schoolgirl's commuter.

    When I heard that Tool was coming to perform everywhere except my home town, I was beat. I'm not as big a fan as I used to be but I felt I owed it to my childhood self to go. I called in late to work and tried to book tickets. In the end, for some reason I don't understand, I bought tickets for both Melbourne and Auckland. I had ten days to kill in between the two concerts.

    I decided it was time to learn how to ride like a man.

    Having never done this before, my method for trip planning was to hop on google maps and try to find the squiggliest way from A to B. I'd not actually done twisties before, but they sounded fun. I shopped around extensively for a quote on a rental, and got a good rate through I have to give a shoutout to Randal as, even though I was really just renting a bike - he offered lots of free advice, a GPS, and even picked me up and dropped me off before and after the trip.

    In the end, this is a *rough* idea of the route I took: Link

    Day 1 -

    I started the day by nearly dropping Randal's bike getting it out of the driveway.

    After that, I was on my way. I had at this point spent only three hours on a bike bigger than 250cc - a Honda NCB700. The Honda was a kitten compared to the V-strom, a bike that I quickly understood has performance out of proportion to it's class.

    The ride up to Coromandel was a real baptism of fire. I babied my way around the first corners, frustrating a convoy of freight trucks, vision-impaired elderly and bicyclists trailing me. I did slowly start to become more comfortable, my system acclimatising like a frog in boiling water. By the time I was on my way to Whitianga, I felt like I had been riding the V-strom for a month. Moments of effortless confidence punctuated what was mostly still very deliberate riding.

    I camped that night at Hahei beach. Motocamping is great, though I ended up couchsurfing or doing cheap motels every other night due to poor weather.

    Coromandel peninsula, just north of Thames.

    Day 2 -

    Day 2 was Hahei down to Tauranga. I did a quick hike in the morning before hopping back in the saddle and setting south.

    Day 1 was a day of learning what real twisties are.

    Day 2 was a day of learning what real weather is.

    Before this trip, "visor fog" was a little bit like "heraldry," "button grass ecology," or "equine polo." That is: I had no idea it existed and didn't care to learn about it. However, I did find myself with my visor flipped up riding down state highways at 100k/h, nothing between my eyes and the elements but a pair of cheap wayfarers. I could only assume that the honks from incoming traffic were to draw attention to my idiocy.

    Shot of the bike on the second morning. The flag in this photo was to not survive today's trip.

    Day 3 -

    Day 3 was the day where it all came together. I had a late start, wanting to find a motorcycle store that could help me with my visor fog problem. The owner there encouraged a detour from my original destination - Gisborne - by instead going up to Hicks Bay.

    This was a welcome diversion, and the East Cape was certainly a highlight of the trip. Going north of the road that connects Opotiki to Gisborne is a good way to get away from it all.

    On this part of the trip, I thought back to my Tu250x and the idea of "trust." Over the last few days, I had learned to really trust the V-strom. I was still unsure about my own riding, but I began to learn that motorcycles will do whatever you tell them to do. If you fall off, it's because you asked the motorcycle to do so.

    Ask I parked the bike up at the motel, I found myself looking at it with warm affection.

    Heading up the East Cape.

    Day 4 -

    Day 4 was Hicks Bay down to Napier, a much longer day than I had originally planned. I passed through Tolaga Bay as a major politician's funeral was going on. The morning's ride was uneventful and pleasurable, and descending through low-flying cloud heading south down the cape gave the ride a slight mysticism that would last the day.

    This was a big "four seasons" day, but I found that dealing with weather on a motorcycle is time-consuming at worst. With good warm gloves, a rain suit, heated grips, and visor fog spray, riding through even heavy rain was a really pleasant experience. I felt like I was casually driving my Corolla around and listening to Enya. The mysticism of the morning persisted throughout the day.

    One of a handful of selfies I took while having a stretch.

    Day 5 -

    Day 5 was yet another day of learning on the cycle. I had been looking forward to this day for a while, with the road "Gentle Annie," from Napier to Taihape, considered a world-class ride with long-sweepers through farmland punctuated with treacherous twisties.

    With good weather and my confidence up, today was a day I felt I could cut loose and put the "sports" in "sports touring," a bit. However, events seemed to temper my confidence as I did find myself going wide on one particular turn that didn't have a speed posted. Thankfully, all the right instincts kicked as my wise mind blared "lean, lean, LEAN!" and I came through the turn without incident. I found myself going wide slightly more than I am willing to admit, and had to remind myself of a few ancient platitudes:

    "The street is not the track."
    "There are old riders, and bold riders, but no bold old riders."
    "Ride your own ride."

    Those phrases never meant much to my put-put work commutes, but had a stark new relevance on Gentle Annie.

    Weather turned terrible in the afternoon and I ended up oscillating between Taumarunui and Whakapapa village. I had wanted to "camp on a volcano" but ended up "staying in a ski motel up some foggy hill, that apparently is a volcano when visibility is above two-hundred metres."

    Gentle Annie

    Day 6 -

    If the fifth day was about unrestrained riding, the sixth was a lesson in restraint. I saw a sign that, after 1500kms of twisty riding, should give any motorcyclist pause:


    This is the "Forgotten World Highway," the Mister Hyde to the Dr. Jekkyl that was "Gentle Annie." Where Annie was all asphalt, FWH had long stretches gravel. Where Annie was sun, FWH was rain. Where Annie was cresting mountains, FWH was weaving between them.

    I think my testes probably wish I had done some off-road training. I did stand on the pegs at one point, only to accidentally kick the bike in to neutral. I found it difficult to do without revving. So I took measure upon measure of road with a pair of vibrating nuts. I was unsure how fast I could push the V-strom, so I took a cautionary approach.

    Big parts of the road were still asphalt, and these were a blast. I was still in a much more cautionary mindset. FWH felt even more isolated than the East Cape. If the rest of New Zealand is Lord of the Rings, FWH felt distinctly "Jurrasic Park."

    Emerging out of the FWH, I felt a profound sense of accomplishment I hadn't expected would be a product of this trip. Once you develop a trusting relationship with a bike and it becomes an extension of your body, a day's riding can feel like a day's hiking. Hopping off the bike feels like something ripping at the seam. In New Plymouth, I had to get my landlegs back.

    Moving from gravel to asphalt is no major concession on the FWH.

    Day 7 -

    The final day was another adventure, with the GPS leading me off the beaten track. This day included plenty of coarse gravel riding between a major highway and a small town called Ohura. I went from Ohura to Kawhia Harbour, and then eventually a little town called Raglan. While I had done a fair amount of gravel riding at this point, this stuff was thick and coarse.

    I realised during the ride that part of my experience of adventure derived from being inexperienced. These roads in New Zealand are joy enough on their own, but I had the added elements of learning about a new bike, new surfaces, and new weather patterns. Compressing all this learning in to a single, intensive eight-day trip is a little bit like going on a cruise with a girl you've just met. Only one of two things can happen on such a cruise: You become much closer, or your relationship ends aflame.

    There was no escaping riding, no time to digest each day - I had places to be and riding to do. It was an unfiltered experience and I probably gained as much in eight days as I had done in the preceeding eighteen months.

    A shot of me between Waitomo Caves and Kawhia Harbour.

    Day 8 -

    By Day 8, I felt like I had squeezed all I could from this experience. My thoughts started to turn to my job - to the business case I had put in. I wondered if the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Education was going to give us the grant we asked for, if I had approval to run a conservation project in Australia's South-West. I remembered it was the birthday of the girl in reception. I thought back to the postie bike I gave to a friend and wondered if she and her dad had fixed it up. I wondered how my housemate's first gig had gone at Mojos.

    I stopped by in a small town called Huntly that an ex-girlfriend had spent a few years in. We'd split up around the same time I got the bike (though the incidents were unrelated) and over a coffee I wondered benignly how unusual it is the places and times we find ourselves. I hadn't really had much time to think at all this trip, and unable to realistically process all the information, I just had to sit there and hope to absorb something from it by osmosis.

    I had become a much better rider, had I become a much better anything else?

    Day 15-

    I'm riding my 250cc around and it feels like a Vespa. I'm trying to get my knee on the ground around roundabouts. I do little S-swerves by alternating pressure between my left and right arse-cheek. I lane-split, mount the sidewalk briefly to get around traffic. At lights, I take off while running with my feet on the ground - like I've got a Flinstones car. When stopping, I slip it in to neutral and put both feet out like they're on stirrups.

    I've been spoiled rotten.
  2. zadok

    zadok Long timer

    Jul 8, 2007
    Western Australia
    I've done the Coromandal myself a few years ago now and I reckon it is quite challenging, even for more experienced riders and a great ride through beautiful scenery. Mind you, the whole country is beautiful and great for bike riding. The advisory speed signs over here are a joke compared to over there, where the advise is to be taken more seriously!
    Well done mate.:clap:D
  3. Witold

    Witold Been here awhile

    Jul 21, 2004
    Looks like really great riding trip. :thumbs
  4. NJ-Brett

    NJ-Brett Brett

    Sep 8, 2010
    Southern New Jersey
  5. Sylvia Stuurman

    Sylvia Stuurman Adventurer

    Mar 21, 2009
    Mheer, the Netherlands
    Extremely well written! I enjoyed every word of it ;-)
  6. CaspianTiger

    CaspianTiger Adventurer

    Feb 21, 2008
    Arizona Mountains, yes there are Mountains
    Nice RR. My wife and I did almost the identical trip a few months ago, also renting from Randall at aucklandmotorbikes. Randall does a great job! Did you see the glow worms?
  7. Sytadel

    Sytadel Adventurer

    Aug 16, 2012
    Thanks for the comments all!

    I reckon the Tu would've actually been good fun on some of the twisties where you rarely get up to speed anyway. I appreciated the V-strom for highway riding and gravel riding, though.

    I did! Was one of the few things I actually did take the time to do. Bloody amazing experience. I also stopped in Kahwia Harbour afterwards and played pool with an old Maori fisherman who had never been to Auckland, and only once visited Hamilton. Great fish & chips there too.

    I didn't talk about it much in the RR, but travelling alone and meeting new people was a real pleasure. Almost every day included some kind of detour after a chat with a local motorcyclist who had just struck up a conversation with me. Paeroa, Hahei, Hicks Bay, and the road from Kahwia to Raglan were all local recommendations. This is both my first M/C trip and also my first time travelling alone.
  8. Blader54

    Blader54 Long timer

    Jul 29, 2012
    Great RR! Thanks so much for letting us ride pillion with you! So now where you going on your next adventurous ride? SW Oz, perhaps? Looking forward to reading your next RR! :clap:D:freaky