The Mighty Ducati 900ss
If there’s something more captivating than cuddling up to a quietly ticking Ducati 900SS on a coldish night in the Brindabellas and disappearing a flask of that fine product from Bundaberg (not the molasses, Merv, the distilled afterthought), then I’m yet to discover it.
Bike touring on a big twin is something delightful and an adventure that I can heartily recommend to readers, non-readers – and would be readers – of that old Robert M Pirsig classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. As Mr P says, it gives one the opportunity to travel in the landscape, as opposed to seeing it flash past in the climate controlled six-speaker sound system four wheeled tin cocoon.
In summer one can savour the searing blast of a run across the Hay Plains at a fair clip in an open-face helmet and strain the occasional hopper through the moustache in a headlong rush to the next schooner of life saving chilled foamy liquid – carefully balancing a couple of hundred kilos of fine Italian metalwork, exquisite engineering and completely unpredictable electrics with the need to stay under the legal limit but be relaxed and wet enough to slip through the drought.
The point is to ride a machine that has a fair chance of allowing you to kill or main yourself, and an equal chance of not starting in the first place – leaving you to watch people you used to think were your mates disappear in a haze of smoke and raucous laughter down your street on only their back wheels, leaving you to fulfil the role of designated gooseberry – whose job it is to call Emergency Services when only Tommos Blue Heeler returns on Sunday night.
Unless you ride a classic bike, you miss out on the adrenalin rush associated with listening through the roar of bevel drive camshafts and mechanically-closed valves for those tiny telltale sounds that suggest a bearing is on the way out at 6,000 revs and you will be tasting the tarmac before you get to Bulahdelah. Go ahead. Nobody is going to notice you watching the temperature gauge and getting ready to go for the clutch.
Riding a big old bike and maybe sailing to Hobart are the last two ways you can scare yourself shirtless and experience the thrills and let’s face it pure terror of getting from Time to Timbuktu.
So how come it is those two dilettante fairies on SBS – Ewan Macgregor and Charlie Boorman can turn a major event like riding from John O’Groats to Capetown into the biggest and most boring festival of todger bothering on the small screen ?
Did you catch any of that tripe ? I watched just the first episode and saw them struggle mightily with really fascinating things like getting a visa for their Yank friend to go through Libya. Next time I’m going to ride through Libya, I’m going to enlist a couple of drop dead gorgeous ladies native to that turf to help ease my application through their customs formalities. Yeah, right.
That, and Charlie’s dear wife being hospitalised just before kick off with some semi-fatal chest infection (in true scout fashion the old trout insisted that he go and she promised to pull through and cough a few encouraging bon mots down the sat line). Give me strength.
From Chuck and Ew, I learnt quite a lot about international long distance bike travel. Apparently these last thirty years, I’ve been doing it all wrong. Instead of freezing crossing from Strachan to Hobart and getting snowed on in February (saved only by an open fire, a steak, a kilo of chocolate and several rums at the Derwent Bridge pub), I was supposed to be rescued by my backup crew and take a warm bath in the mobile home that was supposed to be following us a few dozen metres behind,
Just in case, you understand.
In case some of the extras from the remake of Deliverance wanted to get us to interact with the local gene pool – like it or not. Sorry, I’m hopeless at doing pig impressions.
I think I need a few million dollars worth of film crew, support vehicles, the finest touring machines, a spare parts catalogue larger than California, several managers, my personal field surgeon, masseuse and a charismatic mate just like Charlie with eyes like two piss-holes in the snow. The advantage is that nobody could tell that Charlie has just ridden non-stop through the deserts of Sudan (Go Ian Drury ! – I always wanted to squeeze him into a piece.) because Charlie always looks like that. The purlieu of the mega wealthy – ultimate scruff – and the ability to hire someone far less attractive than oneself as a sidekick. That’s IT ! I have gone through life totally without a Charlie-esque sidekick ! Although Merv would argue that I AM a Charlie-esque sidekick – or he might have said dropkick. I’m not sure.
Through Ewan and Charlie’s august travel doco I also learnt how to cultivate a look somewhere between puzzled incomprehension and stifled frustration – possibly caused by having dental work inferior to my handsome, unfazed movie star colleague. Or possibly because I have no actual idea what’s going on now, or what’s going to happen next – neither of which do I care to donate ordure over which of whatever. Of.
Hang on. Can you wait on a bit ? I’m practising diagnosing a mechanical problem by staring blankly at the silent engine cases and getting ready for my jovial and patronising exchanges with local tribesmen. This one insists on giving me his spear ……..a fair trade for a travel doco this bad……